The Battle of the Biltmore flared again Wednesday in Hermosa Beach, less than a month after the City Council--hoping to end a quarter-century of quibbling--voted to allow beachfront houses on the notorious vacant lot where a Biltmore hotel used to stand.
In a move expected to put the fate of the site on the ballot for the 10th time in recent years, a local activist on Wednesday filed petitions seeking a referendum on the council's decision. Parker Herriott, who has tried for several years to persuade the city to make a park out of the beachfront lot, presented the city clerk with 1,794 signatures he said were from Hermosa Beach residents who oppose zoning the area for single-family homes.
City Clerk Elaine Doerfling, who has 30 days to validate the petitions, said Herriott needs the signatures of 1,199 Hermosa Beach registered voters to qualify the referendum for the ballot.
The City Council could short-circuit the referendum by voting to repeal their zoning plan. But Councilman Roger Creighton said he would favor scheduling a special election for the referendum in hopes of settling once and for all Herriott's claim that the true preference of city residents is for a park on the site.
Although a measure to that effect was voted down last year, Herriott said the vote wasn't fair because the ballot included a council-endorsed plan to use only part of the land for a park.
That latter measure also was defeated, and by a wider margin.
So far, no plan for the Biltmore site has gotten backing from a majority of the community's voters. The lot, just shy of an acre in size, has been vacant since 1965.
"It has gotten to the point where a substantial number of residents, including me, are at the point of exasperation" over the lot, said Mayor Chuck Sheldon.
Neither Sheldon nor other council members were surprised by Herriott's petitions. For weeks, he has been a fixture around the community's supermarkets, collecting signatures not only for the referendum on the council's decision but also for an initiative mandating that the lot be turned into a park.
Herriott hopes the city will call a special election for the referendum and initiative, if it qualifies. Meanwhile he is drawing up petitions for a recall campaign against every council member except Albert Wiemans, who supports Herriott's park plan.