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SANTA MONICA : 'Residents' of Empty Lots Allowed to Vote

November 17, 1994|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN

Former tenants of an apartment building that crumpled during the earthquake and was later demolished were allowed to vote last week as residents of what is now a vacant lot.

So were former residents of the Sea Castle apartments, a quake-damaged and subsequently condemned beachfront building.

Homeowners whose abodes were either condemned or demolished had the same privilege--no matter where they currently hang their hats.

Citing the severity of the Northridge earthquake--and the state of uncertainty in which many residents still find themselves--the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder's Office decided that all voters could cast ballots where they lived at the time of the temblor--even though the dwellings may not still be standing.

"You just don't go around depriving people of their right to vote," said Wendell Patterson, division chief of voter records for the county registrar-recorder's office. "If a person is temporarily displaced and has the intention of returning to their domicile, we will never cancel their registration."

During the campaign, recently reelected City Councilman Robert T. Holbrook unsuccessfully challenged the policy, saying people should be required to vote at their new addresses.

"When a building is taken down or condemned and it is no longer habitable, residents no longer live there," Holbrook said. "Why not let Beverly Hills residents vote here, too?"

Patterson said an exception to the post-disaster policy would be made only if a city informed him that dwelling units were out of commission for good.

Santa Monica officials declined to count any of the city's condemned buildings as permanently lost residential property, said City Clerk Clarice Dykhouse. The city policy applied to buildings that are slated to be restored.

Santa Monica City Atty. Marsha Jones Moutrie said it cannot be assumed someone is no longer a resident of a city because he or she doesn't live there right now. "We have local laws preserving the right of tenants to return," Moutrie said.

Moutrie said she had not specifically considered the vacant lot off San Vicente Boulevard where, apparently, no efforts have been made to rebuild the apartment house that once stood there. One of the owners, Hella Fletcher, said the vacant lot is for sale.

Patterson said voting rolls are periodically checked to see if mailing addresses jibe with the address at which voters are registered. If the addresses don't match, voters are sent a letter asking them to re-register if they've moved.

While it is possible to determine how many people voted from a specific address, Patterson said the county registrar-recorder's office is too busy tallying uncounted absentee votes to research the question right now.

Giving one anecdotal example, however, precinct worker Frank Schengel said 10 out of 60 registered voters who lived at the condemned Champagne Towers on Ocean Avenue cast ballots last Tuesday. The future use of that high-rise has yet to be determined.

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