Dear Mr. Anderson,
Recently, representatives of the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (“SMCLC”) contacted you to learn more about the public review process for any future Macerich proposal for the redevelopment of Santa Monica Place. Specifically, we wanted to know what exactly the community would be asked to review, how much time the community would have to review a new proposal before being asked to comment on it, and what the public process would be.
The City’s Plan for Public Participation
You told us that the City has not yet decided how many community workshops or community group meetings to hold or when to hold them. You could not assure us that there would be at least as many meetings as were held in March 2005, when there was no specific project for residents to discuss. At that time, there were four such community workshops and seven community group meetings. You indicated that there could be as little as one or two meetings over the summer, depending upon whether the City and Macerich believe the most effective way to get public input is all at once or in a series of meetings.
As to what specifically the community would be asked to review, you told us that it would be “concepts” rather than block models for any particular project. These concepts would include possible uses, (e.g., office, retail, housing) and the square footage proposed for those uses along with information about the economics associated with each proposal.
You were uncertain whether the public would be given the opportunity to preview and evaluate these “concepts” before the public meeting(s) took place.
SMCLC’s Response and Recommendation
First, proposals to redevelop Santa Monica Place have generated enormous public interest and concern. The City has acknowledged that hundreds of residents participated in the initial round of community workshops. These workshops were held before a specific proposal was even on the table. We believe the community will have as much, if not more to offer, once there is a specific “concept” to discuss.
A proposal for a development of this magnitude and complexity clearly warrants at least as much community input as was solicited before there was a proposal. Scheduling one or possibly two meetings in the summer, when many residents could be out of town, would not allow the hundreds of residents who have already demonstrated a strong desire to be included in the process to participate at a critical stage.
While fewer community meetings for this controversial development may be in the best interest of the company putting forward the proposal, it is clearly not in the best interests of Santa Monica residents.
Further, it is Macerich, not the City, that pays for this community outreach, so the City has no basis in shortchanging its residents by lessening the amount of public input.
Moreover, in March 2005, the City entered into a contract with Moore Iacofano Goltsman Inc. (“MIG” or “consultant”) that requires MIG to present these next alternative concepts to the community in a series of “four Community Workshops to elicit focused community input on the alternative concepts” and further requires MIG to reconvene with up to ten community groups that it previously conferred with to seek input and comments (March 25, 2005 Professional Services Agreement between City of Santa Monica and MIG, Tasks 3.2. 3.3).
Second, it is very important that Santa Monica residents, as well as the Planning Commission and the City Council, have ample opportunity to review and understand Macerich’s concepts BEFORE they are asked to give meaningful comments about them in a public meeting or hearing. It is unfair to residents to unveil alternative concepts for the first time as part of a slide show and then ask for instant input and analysis. Such a process would likely frustrate and suppress public comment, not promote it.
Third, any proposal to redevelop Santa Monica Place would be a joint venture between the City and Macerich because the City owns the parking structures and the developer wants them rebuilt underground at the City’s expense at an estimated cost of $60 and $100 million. Therefore, at these public meetings City staff should provide their own observations and concerns as to each of Macerich’s concepts. Residents are entitled to know what the staffs’ views are about such a significant project at this stage.
We urge the City to adopt a public process that is meaningful and fair and designed to have residents’ voices and choices be heard. A meaningful public process is one preceded by a development proposal for Santa Monica Place that clearly shows the height and density of the actual proposed buildings, includes a comprehensive environmental report that accurately assesses the traffic impacts, and includes an accurate financial analysis of the City’s direct and indirect costs and contributions to the proposed development.
Rev. James Conn
Claire L. Heron
Mary Jo Stenger
Denny Zanecc: planning commission, city council, city manager