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Voters Reject Limits on Landmarks

Times Staff Writer

Preservation-minded voters in Santa Monica have defeated a developer-backed initiative that would have limited the city’s ability to designate landmarks and historic districts.

Proposition A would have required individual property owners to consent to inclusion in any city-designated historic district. It also would have required that all owners of a single building agree before the city could bestow landmark status on the property.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Mar. 26, 2003 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday March 26, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
Historic districts -- An article in Tuesday’s California section about a special election involving historic districts in Santa Monica carried an incorrect figure for the voter turnout in a 1999 special election in the city. That year, 27.5% of voters went to the polls, not about 25%.

In the city’s first mail-only balloting, 53% of 18,562 voters opposed the initiative, with 47% in favor. The results of the special election were announced late Friday night.

“This issue was put right smack in front of the public,” Ruthann Lehrer, an architectural historian and chairwoman of the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission, said Monday. “Suddenly, people were very aware of landmark regulations and their impacts.”

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Tom Larmore, who wrote the initiative, said that the current landmark ordinance gives the city overly broad powers, allowing officials to overrule property owners’ plans to remodel or replace their homes. Property owners collected nearly 13,000 signatures last fall to force the measure to the ballot.

Larmore said the initiative had been supported overwhelmingly by people who would have been most affected -- those in areas zoned for single-family dwellings. In particular, he said, homeowners in the pricey area north of Montana Avenue voted in favor by a 4-1 ratio.

The initiative was strongly opposed by renters; many homeowners also voted against it.

Opponents called Proposition A an attempt by real estate interests to repeal the ordinance so they could tear down historic homes and replace them with “monster mansions.”

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Bea Nemlaha, a spokeswoman for Save Our Neighborhoods, said she and other opponents worked hard to explain to voters that owners may make any changes they wish inside their homes because “the Landmarks Commission has no jurisdiction over the inside.” Nemlaha, who lives in one of the city’s two historic districts, said the current landmark ordinance allows for many changes to homes’ exteriors after proposals are reviewed.

However, many homeowners have complained of having to wait months for landmarks commissioners to review remodeling proposals.

Ultimately, Nemlaha said, voters were persuaded to oppose the initiative because they feared that it could lead to a loss of the city’s historic roots.

“No matter how important and special and significant an individual property might be, if the owner for whatever reason didn’t value it or care to save it, it would be gone,” she said.

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The city’s first-ever mail election was marred by complaints. Some residents reportedly confused ballots with junk mail and discarded them. Others said they did not receive ballots until Friday, hours before the voting deadline.

Even so, City Clerk Maria Stewart said, the election, which cost about $100,000, succeeded in increasing voter participation.

About 34% of registered voters mailed in ballots, up from about 25% who went to the polls to vote in a special election in 1999.


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