California Elections : Victory of Prop. L Ties Hands of San Fernando City Council
The overwhelming approval of a San Fernando city initiative giving voters authority to control development of a vital piece of civic center property means that the City Council “can no longer ignore” residents’ opinions regarding the site, the measure’s supporters said Wednesday.
“Now residents will have a direct voice on the future of this city,” said Beverly Di Tomaso, one of the leading supporters of the initiative. “This was an opportunity for voters to show their frustration and disappointment over past council actions on that site.”
Proposition L, which garnered 76% of the city vote, requires that any sale, lease, exchange or transfer of any part of the site of the city’s existing police station at 120 Macneil St. be approved by a majority of the city’s voters.
The measure received 1,438 “yes” votes and 446 “no” votes.
Open in 2 Years
The land at issue is directly across the street from San Fernando City Hall. It will be open for development in about two years, after a $2-million police station is built at another location.
For more than a year, the land has been the object of a dispute among former City Councilwoman Carmillis M. Noltemeyer and other council members regarding its connection with the location and construction of the new police station.
The debate began when the council proposed to swap land with the county so that a new station could be built on a larger site. Noltemeyer contended that renovation of the existing station had not been thoroughly studied.
Although the council overrode Noltemeyer’s complaints, saying renovation would cost too much, she and Di Tomaso got enough signatures to put the land-swap issue on the ballot. Faced with the petition, the council earlier this year bought the land it would have obtained in the swap.
But Noltemeyer and Di Tomaso were not satisfied, saying they fear that the land the station now occupies will become part of another council “giveaway.”
‘An Insurance Policy’
“The city is now going to have to search for the best deal for the land,” Di Tomaso said. “Since the people have the right to vote on it, it’s like having an insurance policy for the people.”
San Fernando Mayor Jess Margarito, who along with the four other councilmen opposed the measure, said he will “adhere to the mandate of the voters,” but called the campaign waged in support of the initiative a “disservice to the voters of San Fernando because of misinformation and cowardice.”
He was referring, he said, to two leaflets dropped at doorsteps by measure proponents. One, attacking City Administrator Donald Penman, asked, “Are we in control of our city or is Don Penman?” Another showed a sliced pie, with one missing piece and its space labeled 120 Macneil St., in an apparent reference to what the measure’s supporters have called previous city attempts to “give away” the police-station property.
Margarito said he sees the approval of Proposition L as an indication of the need for the council to develop a “better process for communication with the citizens.” He said he will move to hold community forums and will put together a letter to residents outlining the status of the construction of the police station and other important city issues.
Whereas proponents of the measure conducted an active campaign, with signs and precinct walkers, opponents failed to organize a campaign. Margarito had said earlier that members of a political action committee, Mission City Political Education Committee, would head the effort to fight the measure. But, he said Wednesday, they never found the time to organize.
Councilman Roy Richardson, who wrote the argument against the measure accompanying the sample ballot, said he believes the initiative’s passage has hurt the city’s ability to move ahead on plans for Los Angeles County to use the land for the expansion of the tiny San Fernando branch of the county library next door. This is the only use for the land the council has discussed.
“At this point I can’t see anything effectively happening on this for two to three years,” Richardson said. “It will be difficult to negotiate with the county, knowing that everything would have to then be approved in a special election,” he said.
County Librarian Linda F. Crismond agreed with Richardson that the measure poses a “timing problem” for plans to expand the cramped library.
“If there were an opportunity to apply for special funds, we may not be able to take advantage of them because we would have to wait for a special election to be held,” she said.
Noltemeyer lost her seat in the April election. On the same ballot was Di Tomaso, who also lost.