As Santa Monica residents, we are writing to express our deep concerns over a recent Macerich-funded resident telephone survey to assess the attitudes of city residents about the redevelopment of Santa Monica Place.
After reviewing the survey questions and consulting with polling professionals, we have concluded this poll is inherently biased toward high-density redevelopment of the site and is fundamentally flawed as a true indicator of public sentiment and opinion.
Most strikingly, the poll mentions none of the potential adverse impacts of redeveloping Santa Monica Place, only testing respondents’ positive attitudes about a larger development, but not the negative. It asks people to rank their preferences for outdoor cafes, movie theaters, dining, etc. but it never asks them to rank those preferences against the known trade-offs of a larger development.
The most fundamental question was not asked: “Would you favor increasing building density at the Santa Monica Place site if that increased density would result in more traffic congestion?”
The only way the survey addresses increasing building density at all is in a positive way. After listing a number of theoretical priorities that residents have identified, the survey then says: “balancing the need for retail, housing and other uses with the desire for open space might require taller buildings.” In other words, the lure of theoretical “open space,” which could consist of privately owned open space for use mainly by affluent condo owners, is used to entice respondents into signing off on increased building heights.
By failing to present a real picture of the impact of this potential development, the poll misleads residents about the actual choices available for the site. Indeed, it appears to be written to lead residents into making one of only two choices: Leaving Santa Monica Place as it is or changing it into a much larger, high-density development.
Another fundamental issue the survey ignores is whether residents favor turning the site into a regional shopping center whose very purpose would be to attract people from outside Santa Monica to shop there, thereby increasing traffic congestion, and other problems related to increased use. This is what Macerich has said it wants to do, yet the survey doesn’t ask whether this is also what residents want.
Additionally, respondents were not asked another key question: “Macerich’s proposal to rebuild the mall probably will include new parking to be built underground, at an estimated cost of between $60 and $100 million. Since the city owns the current parking structures, the city might be asked to pay for this. Would you favor using city money for such a project?”
Because of the inherent biases contained within this survey, we believe it is useless in correctly gauging community opinion. In fact, we believe it is worse than useless because it was designed to mislead, to show that residents want the opposite of what they stated time after time at community meetings: That huge buildings, out of scale to current zoning, and increases in density which will negatively impact traffic is NOT what residents want on this site.
We understand this survey was developed by Macerich, MIG (the entity that facilitated the community workshops) and the City. Yet after having put on the workshops and elicited residents’ concerns, those entities elected to test only “some” of the ideas expressed and to completely ignore the density and traffic concerns and the financial questions surrounding parking costs that a majority of residents expressed.
When the developer of the project is allowed to design a questionnaire that favors its development plans, it is a serious conflict of interest: It is mind-boggling that the City would allow such a conflict of interest to occur.
For all of these reasons, we urge you to discard the results of this seriously flawed poll.
When the original Macerich proposal was presented, City Council instructed the developer to go to the community for input. We have no confidence that this is being done in an objective way. The people of Santa Monica must be entrusted with determining what kind of city we will be. That process starts with a fair, objective and realistic debate about the options before us.
We believe that process has not yet begun.THE SANTA MONICA COALITION FOR A LIVABLE CITY