Carpinterians will decide the fate of Parking Lot #3 – the proposed site of the controversial Surfliner Inn – on the November 2022 ballot, following a unanimous vote by the city council on Monday.
Monday’s decision was encouraged by public commenters both for and against the inn, the latter of who have long sought to put the issue of the Surfliner Inn to a vote of the people.
Those against the Inn collected over 1,000 signatures on a petition to re-designate Parking Lot #3, seeking to prevent any development on the lot and modifying the city’s general plan to do so. Acting City Clerk Brian Barrett confirmed Monday that of the 1,075 signatures submitted on the Initiative to Save Parking Lot #3 – as it is colloquially known – 932 were determined to be valid.
That left the council with three options: accept the petition as is, keeping Parking Lot #3 from development; put the issue on the Nov. 8, 2022 ballot; or hold a special election in April. After some discussion, the council went with the second option, after both public commenters and city staff pointed out perceived conflicts of interest with holding a special election.
“Elections, as we have learned lately, are paramount (in that) the public has trust in their conduct,” City Manager Dave Durflinger said.
Prior to the council’s vote, Councilmember Gregg A. Carty asked Carpinteria voters to be careful about misinformation.
“This is true if you’re for or against any initiative. It’s important you do your homework and study it, and make your decision based on that,” Carty said.
Compared to past meetings on the Surfliner Inn project, Monday’s meeting saw only saw a handful of public speakers, in-person and over Zoom.
Public commenter Susan Allen defended city staff members’ abilities to do their jobs, noting they have been publicly accused of mishandling the Surfliner Inn project.
“It truly saddens me how staff is being portrayed on this issue. In this chamber and through local news outlets, staff has been accused of being dishonest, ‘on the take,’ making secret deals. If that is the case, please show the rest of us the proof,” she said. “As staff will attest to, I often don’t agree with you, but never have found you anything but professional.”
She also spoke strongly against changing the city’s general plan.
“Creating our general plan is truly a joined effort. Now suddenly we have an L.A. attorney” – referencing an attorney quoted by people against the Surfliner – “telling us the writers of our city constitution are wrong. That our city attorneys are reading the Initiative too closely.
“The L.A. attorney called it a ‘strained reading.’ Our city attorneys are paid to do just that: inform everyone in this city what could be a legal issue. Why should we be listening to an outside party?”
Amrita Salm, a vocal opponent of the Surfliner Inn project, spoke against a special election prior to the council’s vote. She brought up issues with both a perceived conflict of interest and the cost of a special election.
“We urge the city to avoid the perceived conflict of interest associated with running an election and tallying the votes,” Salm said.
Whitt Hollis, one of the developers of the proposed Surfliner Inn, also encouraged the council to place the issue on the November 2022 ballot rather than hold a special election.
“The Surfliner Inn team strongly urges the council to… place the issue on the Nov. 8, 2022 ballot, to maximize the number of citizen votes while saving thousands of taxpayers’ money for the city staff,” Hollis said.
If Carpinteria voters vote in favor of the initiative in November, the matter will then go to the Coastal Commission for certification, which handles changes to the city’s general plan.
The city approved two proclamations: the first designated January 2022 as Human Tracking Awareness month, and the second designated January 2022 as Carpinteria Business month.