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Coalition Takes City to Court: Files petition seeking public records

Yesterday afternoon, Santa Monica attorney Carol Sobel filed a verified petition in Superior Court on behalf of the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) for a writ of mandate compelling the City of Santa Monica to produce public records that the Coalition requested two months ago and has not yet received.

At the same time, a motion was filed to hold a hearing on June 16.

Formed by a number of residents in March, the Coalition (www.smclc.net) filed a Public Records Act Request almost two months ago with the City of Santa Monica for a variety of public documents, including all written communications between the City and the Macerich Company on the redevelopment of Santa Monica Place.

Specifically, SMCLC sought public documents from January 2000 to the present because it learned from City officials and residents, as well as news articles and City Council agendas, that Macerich had “floated” at least one prior proposal to redevelop Santa Monica Place to the City that would not have dramatically increased building density on the site.

Among the documents it sought were those showing the valuation of the land and the parking structures owned by the City’s Redevelopment Agency, as reflected on the City’s books, as well as those related to the recent City-sponsored telephone surveys to residents about the potential redevelopment of Santa Monica Place.

After taking the maximum additional time permitted under the law, which the City claimed it needed to search and gather all information from the various City departments, it produced only a few documents and none, or virtually none, covered the categories cited by SMCLC in its request.

As an SMCLC spokesperson put it, “The City’s response was woefully inadequate. It not only ignored the requests for the key documents (i.e., Macerich/City communications over the proposals for Santa Monica Place) but it also misrepresented whether documents existed and it limited its search for documents in a way that would ensure that requested documents would not be located.”

The Coalition then retained counsel to negotiate its access to these critical documents, and asked the City Attorney that the City not, in its words, “sit on our request or further stonewall because the City has agreed to expedite its consideration of Macerich’s proposals for Santa Monica Place and these documents are an important part of the public’s understanding of the issues and the City/Macerich partnership.”

The spokesperson went on to say, “We have now exhausted our attempts to negotiate fruitfully with the City to obtain these public documents — documents which the City has not claimed are exempt from production for any reason. The City has claimed the redevelopment of Santa Monica Place will be a public process. We believe that in not allowing the public to review documents relating to the contacts between the City and Macerich, the public is effectively being shut out of that process. Taking the City to Court is not something we take lightly. But we will not stand by while the City and a private company quietly negotiate what will possibly be the largest development in Santa Monica’s history. Therefore, the SMCLC has filed a petition in Superior Court to compel production of these public records and for attorneys’ fees and costs as permitted under the California Public Records Act.”

All the members of the Coalition Steering Committee have been active in a full spectrum of community endeavors and most of them are longtime residents. They are screenwriter Victor Fresco, writer-producer John Gabree, attorney Diana Gordon, Nora Hamill, who’s in real estate, commercial property owner Jeff Segal and Linda Sullivan, a director of marketing.

On the Coalition Advisory Committee are Abby Arnold, Peter Davison, Marge Ghiz, Susan Ginsberg, Geraldine Kennedy, Sherill Kushner, Bea Nemlaha, Maynard Ostrow, Laurel Roennau, Ruth Rosen, Jacob Samuel, Giles Smith, Carol Sobel, Doris Sosin, Peter Tigler and Ted Winterer.They, too, are all longtime residents and community activists.

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