SACRAMENTO — Developers of a proposed $31-million Hermosa Beach hotel, which has been knotted in controversy for years, have turned to the state Legislature for a change in law that could ease the way for construction of the beachfront project.
Plans for the 250-room hotel have been stalled since 1985, when a Los Angeles Superior Court judge overturned the results of a referendum, ruling that supporters of the project had won the June, 1985, election by a single vote.
Although a number of absentee ballots had been disputed, the key vote was a ballot signed by Margaret Davey, which Judge Philip M. Saeta disallowed because it had been delivered by someone else.
But opponents of the hotel, planned for The Strand between 13th and 15th streets, appealed the decision to the 2nd District Court of Appeal, where it is pending.
Further complicating the issue, last year the state Supreme Court, in an East Palo Alto case, confirmed that the law prohibits absentee ballots delivered by a so-called third party. However, the court left open the issue of whether such absentee ballots must be automatically thrown out or whether election officials can use their discretion in deciding if they should be counted.
The hotel's developers contend that it was the Legislature's intent, except in an emergency, to require voters to return their own absentee ballots by mail or in person and that any absentee ballots returned by a third party must be discarded.
As a result, they have sponsored legislation, carried by Sen. Robert Presley (D-Riverside), that spells out the requirements for returning an absentee ballot.
"The purpose in this bill," Presley said, "is just to clarify the law, so that when the court makes its decision it knows what the legislative intent was when the law was passed in 1976."
But Assemblyman Burt Margolin (D-Los Angeles), who voted against the measure Thursday, said he was reluctant to support bills introduced on an urgency basis that affect pending litigation. Further, he said, the measure is too restrictive.
The Senate in February passed the measure 33 to 0. Last Thursday, the Assembly, which made several minor changes, passed it on a 65-3 vote. Assemblyman Gerald Felando (R-San Pedro), whose district covers Hermosa Beach, was not present for the vote, and his office said he was en route to New Zealand on vacation.
No Comment on Measure
Sen. Robert Beverly (R-Manhattan Beach), who represents Hermosa Beach, had no comment on the measure. When the Presley bill was on the Senate floor in February, Beverly was listed as absent or not voting.
But because the Assembly made changes in the bill, it has been sent back to the Senate for final consideration when the Legislature returns from its spring recess on April 20. If it wins final approval and is signed by Gov. George Deukmejian, Presley's measure would take effect immediately.
Sheila Donahue Miller, lawyer for the hotel opponents, contended that the bill is tailored to influence the outcome of the election and make it easier for the appeals court to rule in favor of the hotel's builders. She labeled the measure "a special interest bill pushed by the (hotel) developers. . . . "
Miller said she only became aware of Presley's proposal a few days before the Assembly considered it last week.
David Greenwood of Greenwood & Langlois, developers of the proposed project, discounted Miller's contention that it is a special interest bill. However, Greenwood acknowledged that the measure, should it become law, could be a boost for his hotel.
"I hope that it helps the project," he said. But Greenwood added that it would be up to the appeals court to make the final determination.
William J. Yeates, Sacramento lobbyist for the developers, said that an initial draft of the measure discussed with Presley would have applied retroactively to the Hermosa Beach referendum. However, he said, Presley objected, and the proposal was scaled down.
Mickey Kantor, lawyer for the developers, also said that Presley wanted the focus of the bill narrowed. Kantor said he met with Presley once to discuss the bill. Kantor is a member of the politically well-connected law firm of Manatt, Phelps, Rothenberg and Tunney, whose partners include former U.S. Sen. John Tunney (D-Calif.). Kantor is longtime Democratic Party election strategist.
In 1985, when Judge Saeta overturned the election results, his decision hinged on three of 14 ballots that had been contested by hotel supporters. After his ruling, the final tally for the hotel was 2,400 votes to 2,399.
The key ballot in determining the outcome was Davey's. It was hand-delivered to the polling place on Election Day by Peter Barks, brother of then-Councilman George Barks and an opponent of the hotel.