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When Less Is Much More:

Regular readers of this page know by now that we find the City’s proposed Civic Center Specific Plan misbegot in virtually every respect.

What, then, ask advocates of the plan – all of whom seem to be in City Hall now or want, more than anything, to be there – do we want, if we don’t want the Plan?

To put it as succinctly as we can: we want nothing – at least until the revisions of the land use and circulation elements of the General Plan that are now in the works are complete and in place.

To undertake what amounts to a completely new and radically different Civic Center that would drastically reconfigure the heart of Santa Monica before we revise the General Plan is akin to shooting the final reels of a movie without having any idea what the preceding reels contain, or designing the interior of a house before the house itself has been designed.

It’s bad policy, worse planning, and can only end disastrously.

What the hell is the hurry anyway? The Civic Center Specific Plan has been in the works for 15 years; why is City Hall suddenly so anxious to push it forward?

The “emerging themes” the Planning Department has culled from community workshops and surveys as part of its work on the revision of the General Plan suggest that residents want no more mega-projects. Perhaps the City wants to slip this most mega of projects in before the new General Plan forbids it.

If that’s the basis for the big push, City Hall is out of order, and should be set smartly back on its heels.

Any number of City Hall officials have spent years on this tangled up plan and three Council members – Richard Bloom, Ken Genser and Kevin McKeown – are also members of the Civic Center Working Group. Perhaps they’ve come to see rejection of the Plan as tantamount to a rejection of them, and these are not people who take rejection gracefully.

If ego is driving the project, then we’d all be happier, and healthier, if the City popped for couch-time for neurotic offcials rather than the construction of this psychotic mega-project.

The latest “Comprehensive Update to the Civic Center Specific Plan” was contained in a Staff Report made to the City Council at last night’s meeting in connection with an “Associated Appeal of the Planning Commission’s Action.”

It was bureaucratic game-playing at its most absurd.

In effect, appellant Clarke, vice-chair of the Planning Commission, aimed to literally rewrite history. The Planning Commission “action” was, in fact, a non-action as it did not recommend the Civic Center Plan to the Council and did not certify its EIR. Since the Commission serves in an advisory capacity, the Council is free to accept or reject its findings, and so, in this instance, it could approve or reject the Plan and certify the EIR without further ado. But they like ado in City Hall, and so the game-playing went on.

This latest iteration of the Plan is longer and denser than all of its predecessors, but it reads less like a analysis than an extended pitch for the project, and, of course, it does not say that a project of this size and scope should be put on hold until the revised General Plan is complete. In explaining why the Commission did not act, the report noted that only four members were present and one of them was unwilling to move the Plan forward, but it did not say why. As the staff report asked that the Council overturn the Commissioner’s decision, surely the report should have included the bases for that decision, but it didn’t. Like all its prior iterations, the report did, however, natter on about the shortcomings of the existing Civic Center, characterizing it as a sort of disaster area in the middle of the city.

All hype and hyperbole, the report demeans its authors, the members of the Council to whom it’s addressed and the community that staff and Council are all sworn to serve.

As we said, we believe that nothing should be done until the revised General Plan is complete and in place, but in order to do nothing, some things must be undone immediately – specifically, the decisions that were made with no ado at all in City Hall, without the approval of the community, to demolish the back section of City Hall and the RAND buildings.

These are non-reversible actions that if taken, will virtually mandate an entire sequence of questionable actions, and thus force the Civic Center Plan on us.

If, on the other hand, the demolitions are called off, the back portion of City Hall could be rehabbed to provide more space for the burgeoning City staff, the RAND Z building could be converted into live/work spaces for artists, and the other RAND building could become a museum chronicling the lives and works of Santa Monica’s artists – past and present – in all media.

Now that’s a Civic Center Plan we could support – simple, smart, and the adaptive reuse of three significant existing buildings.

Sadly, simple and smart are concepts that have found virtually no favor in City Hall recently, and so the Council dutifully followed staff orders and upheld the appeal, adopted resolutions approving the “comprehensive update” to the Civic Center Specific Plan, certified the associated Environmental Impact Report and adopted a statement of overriding considerations, and so the Civic Center Specific Plan, which includes the redevelopment of Santa Monica Place, will go forward. Damn the General Plan, and full speed ahead.

The vote was close 4 to 3, with Mayor Pam O’Connor and Council members Richard Bloom, Ken Genser and Kevin McKeown dutifully following the staff’s orders and approving the misbegot Plan, and Mayor Pro Tem Herb Katz and Council members Bob Holbrook and Bobby Shriver elevating the community welfare over the staff’s and opposing the Plan.Played mercilessly by City staff and betrayed by four of their representatives, residents have no choice now but to mount an initiative – and stop the madness that has overtaken City Hall

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