We are residents and/or business owners who love Santa Monica and want to ensure that the City applies responsible planning practices to major development projects. We are very concerned about the future of Santa Monica Place. We are writing to you now because we believe that our City’s planning and decision-making process is seriously flawed: (1) it does not encourage sustainable growth — workable developments that are within existing zoning and the general plan and which do not impose substantial negative impacts on traffic and air quality; and (2) it does not enable our residents to have meaningful input into decisions about our City’s growth.
If this flawed process is not fixed, our City will no longer feel like our home and Santa Monica residents will be burdened with a City that is overdeveloped and overrun by intolerable traffic, worsening air quality, high density construction, and a lack of open space.
We were alarmed by the recent City/Macerich community workshops on the future of Santa Monica Place, which provided one of the first opportunities for residents to express our views on the proposed project, even though Macerich had been quietly negotiating the project, with City staff, for almost two years.
What we would have expected was a close look at what has been under discussion for so long with a wide-ranging public discussion of its merits/demerits. Instead, the City and Macerich ignored the plan presented to the City Council only a few weeks earlier, ignored existing zoning and general plan requirements for the site, and made no attempt to posit a development for a sustainable community. Residents were told to act as though there were no planning rules, given children’s building blocks, and asked to become mall designers “on the spot.” Participants were not told how the blocks that were added to the site plan would increase the square footage of the existing mall; they were simply encouraged to add as many blocks as they wanted. At the end of each session, photographs of the site plans were taken, photographs we are concerned will now be used to imply that residents favor increased density at the site, something that most residents argued strongly against during the open forum portion of the workshops.
This “mall designer” exercise was presented in the name of “we’re open to all ideas,” but really was aimed at avoiding any reaction to or criticism of the very real, expedited project Macerich and the City have in mind. Fortunately, many residents rejected being manipulated like this and insisted upon being heard about the plan that previously had been proposed to the City Council.
What emerged from the community workshops is that the overwhelming majority of the residents who attended and voiced their views are strongly opposed to changes to Santa Monica Place that would violate existing zoning or which would have significant impacts. These residents asked vital questions, many of which simply were not answered.
Key unanswered questions included:
• What project is currently “on the table;”
• Why can’t the existing mall simply be “refreshed” without adding more density;
• What is the City’s total financial contribution to the project, given an expected City contribution of extremely valuable, City-owned land;
• What required agreements have been reached with the two department store tenants which have fee interests or long-term leases; and
• What impacts will there be on traffic, congestion, noise, air pollution and open space?
Given this objectionable beginning, we residents of Santa Monica insist upon a meaningful and extensive public process preceded by a development proposal for Santa Monica Place that clearly shows the height and density of the proposed buildings, that is based upon reasonable and responsible planning practices, and that includes a comprehensive environmental report that accurately assesses the impacts of traffic, congestion, noise, water runoff, light, and open space, during and after construction.
The City and Macerich must hold meaningful public meetings, designed to encourage wide-ranging discussion and public comment and to accommodate the community vision in response to the real project. All of the questions that were (and will be) raised must be answered, particularly what tangible benefits would our community receive if we were to allow intensive, private use of prime public property, the disregarding of applicable zoning, and the conversion of a shopping center into an extensive real estate development?
Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable Community:
Abby Arnold, Bill Bauer, Ellen Brennan, Nancy Campeau, Rev. Jim Conn, Peter Davison, Victor Fresco, John Gabree, Marge Ghiz, Diana Green Gordon, Nora Jane Hamill, Art Harris, Claire Heron, A. Holcomb, Sherrill Kushner, Lois Lambert, Ruthann Lehrer, Maria Loya, Beatrice H. Nemlaha, Laurel Roennau, Paul Rosenstein, Jacob Samuel, Jeff Segal, Robert Seldon, Clyde Smith, Doris Sosin, Linda Sullivan, Peter Tigler, Ted Winterer and Denny Zane.