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The Next City Manager: Two Views:

At the October 11 City Council meeting, agenda item 4-A was devoted to a discussion of the sort of City Manager Santa Monica needs. At the conclusion of the discussion, residents and Council members agreed that there should be further public discussion of the question and residents were urged to email their views to Council members and local newspapers.

These two letters were among those presented at the meeting.


To: the Santa Monica City Council

From: Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City

The Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) appreciates the inclusion of item 4-A, the public’s views on the criteria for our city’s next City Manager, on the Council agenda.

Our preliminary thoughts are summarized below. However, given the extraordinary impact this person will have on the livability of Santa Monica, we urge the Council to schedule a second public hearing in two weeks so that this issue is well publicized throughout our community. Many residents who could not come on such short notice will have helpful points of view and experience regarding the critical skills for our new City Manager. Their voices also should be considered before the criteria are determined.

1. Proven Experience In Planning for the Long-Term, not the Short-Term

SMCLC believes a City Manager must have significant experience with a sophisticated urban city, like Santa Monica, that has a budget of $400 million or more. The Manager must also have an understanding that his/her role is not solely to unlock the maximum value of economic development as has occurred in Santa Monica over the past twenty years, but to give equal importance to the long-term consequences and negative unmitigable impacts. Any candidate for City Manager must understand that there needs to be a better balancing of residents’ needs for a high level of services and the means of providing it from a largely commercial base. Our city is at a historic “overload” from our own over-development. It is now also under assault from the cumulative impact of other powerful surrounding regions, including Playa Vista and Westwood. This cumulative, accelerated growth is making everyone crazy.

The answer does not lie in yielding to the pressure to increase heights and densities further in Santa Monica to maximize revenues. A candidate for City Manager should demonstrate an understanding that an essential part of their job is to preserve valuations and revenue opportunities for the future. Creating scarcity (i.e. limiting how much development can be approved on an annual basis) helps to maximize the value received and also focuses on the long-term.

Santa Monica needs a City Manager who is willing to set limits on how much development should occur annually and what trade-offs are acceptable to the community and to support the adoption of a competitive commercial allotment

program that will yield the best development consistent with such goals. The City Manager should also demonstrate an understanding of how to properly and accurately conduct traffic studies relating to proposed developments and how to reduce traffic congestion in Santa Monica not exacerbate it to intolerable levels.

2. Proven Experience in Implementing, Not Ignoring Stated Land-Use Objectives Specified in the General Plan

SMCLC previously submitted its views to you about the major deficiencies of the Opportunities and Challenges Report which include:

a) The failure to discuss the successes and failure of the 1984 Land Use Element of the General Plan as part of the update process;

b) The failure of the report to justify the significant amount of upzoning and increased mixed-use development discussed in relation to Santa Monica’s present resident population;

c) The need for the City to study the results of all of the mixed-use development that has been built thus far to determine if it has met the City’s objectives of housing for our work force, increasing the use of public transit and encouraging pedestrian sidewalk use before committing to substantially more such development; and an overemphasis on development as demolition and new construction rather than adaptive reuse and upgrading of existing buildings.

Any consideration of a new City Manager should include a discussion of each of these issues. This is not a Supreme Court appointment. Residents are entitled to know exactly where a new City Manager stands on these issues and whether he/she will be accountable to the residents of this City.

3. Genuine Leadership Skills in Accepting Meaningful Input From Residents and a Willingness to Change Position Based Upon Residents Views

Our City is fortunate to have a highly educated, intelligent and activist resident community. Yet all too often when residents do take the time to communicate their needs and views to City staff on an issue, those views are not accurately conveyed to this Council. An excellent example occurred recently when many residents expressed their opinion that they wanted their City to look the way it looks now in twenty years. This view was changed in the OC Report to say that residents are in favor of existing zoning heights which is entirely different. It is imperative that a new City Manager have zero tolerance for misprepresenting to the Council what residents want and halt the current, unacceptable practice of allowing developers to sell their development concepts to residents through the use of non-neutral surveys and City publications.

It is equally important that our new City Manager do more than simply “listen” to residents. To be respected and effective, a City Manager must have engaged in economic development on a more “grassroots” level. He/she must be willing to incorporate residents’ views and change position in response to well-founded residents’ views. Staff and developers’ views are not entitled to greater weight than the residents who live here and know their city’s problems intimately. Yet all too often residents experience the frustration of having their opinions and expectations for their city ignored because the staff report does not share the views or take them into acccount. Our next City Manager must have a proven record of good relations with the community.

4. City Staff Bonus Structure Must Be Publicly Disclosed, Non-Arbitrary, and Not Tied to Increases in City Revenues or Underspending the City’s Budget or Other Undisclosed Criteria.

This is an area of grave concern. The entire bonus structure needs to be publicly disclosed from the City Manager on down. Residents are entitled to understand what their staff is being rewarded for doing and why and whether such bonus compensation is in keeping with the City’s stated goals or the goals of sustaining a livable city.

5. The City Manager’s Contract Should be for a Fixed Term, Renewable Only After Full Public Discussion and Review of Performance, the City Manager Should Live in Santa Monica, and the City Charter Should Be Amended to Permit Dismissal by a Majority Council Vote.

The Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City website is www.smclc.net.


To: The Santa Monica City Council

From: The Ocean Park Association

The Ocean Park Association suggests you seek the following skills and abilities in a new City Manager:

1. Responsiveness and sensitivity to community concerns and a willingness to meet annually with neighborhood organizations and other local stakeholders.

2. A vision for transparent and accountable city operations (i.e. a City Hall culture in which residents are kept abreast of vital information such as the City’s economic development plan and do not have to resort to Freedom of Information Act suits to win disclosure of public documents).

3. Experience in managing a small beach community and in sustaining its character.

In addition, we propose that:

1. The new Manager’s contract should be of a fixed term.

2. Three to four finalists in the selection process should meet with neighborhood organizations and other stakeholders to provide feedback on these individuals to the Council.

3. The public should participate in the annual performance review of the City Manager.

4. The city manager should be required to live in Santa Monica so as to confront daily the issues facing residents.

5. The Council should endeavor to reform the City Charter so that the City Manager may be dismissed by a regular majority of the votes of the Council.

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