Like many Santa Monicans I was stunned when I heard about the Macerich Company’s proposal to redevelop Santa Monica Place. Their plan was to roughly triple the building density of the existing mall, adding three 24-story residential towers along with an office building, all of which were way beyond what current zoning would allow.
Later I learned that the size of their proposed development would be the square footage equivalent of putting all nine of Santa Monica’s largest hotels on this one site. Or placing the biggest office building in the West — L.A.’s 73 story U.S. Bank tower — in the heart of Santa Monica.
Since the City owns the land on which the current parking structures now sit, Macerich also wanted the City to cover the cost of putting the parking underground.
In return for adding this mini-city to our already overly congested downtown, Santa Monica residents would get… well, according to the presentation, pride mostly. The pride of knowing we have even more places to dine and shop. The pride a resident would feel in pointing to an office tower, out-of-scale to anything else around it, and saying, we helped people with a lot of money have magnificent views all the way to Catalina.
The new development, it was explained, would open up Third Street. It would be a gateway. A gateway to… well, as one resident suggested, a gateway to Sears.
Oh, and this proposal was developed behind closed doors without any community input.
Not surprisingly, many people were against this idea and on the night it was presented to City Council, those residents urged council members to simply turn the proposal down.
And they did. They killed it. It is now one hundred percent, totally dead. Although, as anyone who enjoys a good zombie movie knows, bad things have a way of coming back to life, especially if, like a zombie, you didn’t kill it properly in the first place.
Had the Council simply told Macerich “no,” that they, like everyone else in Santa Monica, have to live within our zoning laws, Macerich could have built whatever they wanted as long it was no taller than 56 feet. (84 feet with a development agreement.) Had the Council done that, which many who spoke that evening urged them to do, the beast would have been killed properly.
Instead, the Council voted to instruct City staff and Macerich to keep going and to come back with another idea. And to come back as quickly as possible. Because apparently, not only do we need a huge development downtown, but we need it now!
Everything was still negotiable, and now on a fast track, as long as Macerich reached out to the community for cover. I mean input. Input was how the Council put it. That was the word. Not cover. You’d only think Macerich’s community outreach was cover if you read the wording on their surveys, or attended their community meetings, which began with worried residents speaking, sometimes quite passionately, against a huge, high-density, traffic-clogging development and ended in a bizarre process where we broke into groups and, using building blocks, were encouraged to create a huge, high-density, traffic-clogging development.
Want housing? Add more housing blocks. Want retail? Add more retail blocks. Don’t worry about square footage, that’s not the point of the exercise. The point is to design a new mall. People were confused. We’re not mall designers. Why are we being asked to do this? A man in my group kept asking if we couldn’t just vote on whether to only refurbish the existing mall, rather than demolish it. No. No vote, just more blocks.
We finally understood the point of the exercise when, after an hour, and a mock site now crammed with blocks, a photographer appeared and the results were photographed, presumably to be used at a later date to show that residents want a huge high-density, traffic-clogging development.
Community input, which during the beginning of the meeting was pretty unanimous in wanting the mall built on a reasonable scale, was now being manipulated to imply exactly the opposite.
What’s clear is that Macerich really, really hates the existing mall.
They hate it so much that after they bought it, they ran it into the ground, making it a place virtually no one wants to go to. They hate it so much they sponsored a survey of Santa Monica residents that’s designed to get you to say that you hate the mall as much as they do.
Presumably, like the photos at the community meetings, the results will be used to suggest that residents want it be replaced by a huge, high-density, traffic-clogging development.
Something good did come out of these community meetings. People were so alarmed by them that they came together to create organized opposition. The Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (WWW.SMCLC.NET) was formed to insure that the process of drafting a new proposal for the mall site would be fair and realistically reflect residents’ wishes.
That’s our immediate goal. We also want to ensure that residents have meaningful input into future major development decisions that affect our lives. We want new developments to be on a scale that is both sane and sustainable. And we want a fair public process. We realize this will not be an easy fight. But we’ve been encouraged by the amount of smart, hard-working people who are now engaged in this issue. People from all different political perspectives, who have one thing in common: Santa Monica is their home.I was stunned when I first heard Macerich’s proposal. I was concerned when I went to the community meeting. Now I feel better because I know that many residents share these feelings and are doing something about it. Join us. You’ll feel better, too.