Farce is sometimes amusing, but it’s rarely as amusing as its authors think it is, and it’s never amusing, much less welcome, at City Council meetings.
Item 8-B at last week’s Council meeting was a farce, and it was anything but amusing.
It was a 14-page City staff report recommending that the Council/Redevelopment Agency authorize staff to negotiate with Related Companies of California to design and develop “The Village” in the Civic Center, and to discuss “building heights and a community design process.”
As we noted here last week, this is a major project – three buildings, 325 apartments, some affordable, some market rate, with retail spaces on the ground floor, to be located on city-owned land that may be the most valuable parcel in the entire city.
It’s not just a major project. It’s a very big deal, and a bonanza for the “developer design team.”
We don’t like the project. We don’t like the Civic Center Specific Plan that it’s part of, and we think that if Santa Monica needs a mixed use development of this size, and that’s a very big “If,” it should be located on the bus yards site (which, of course should be moved out of downtown Santa Monica to the eastern edge of the city) And, for all those reasons, we didn’t like the staff proposal.
The Council tabled the staff recommendation before it discussed it in any detail, because Council member Herb Katz found the staff’s description of the Related proposal inadequate, and Mayor Pro Tem Bobby Shriver was disturbed by the absence of a substantive and detailed financial analysis and relevant information on the other two finalists.
Related proposed a community discussion on increasing the building heights from the previously mandated 56-foot maximum to 65 feet, while the other two finalists suggested the project would not be feasible unless the buildings were 120 feet tall.
As Shriver noted, the staff report did not address the disparity, much less explain it, and did not give the Council enough information to make its own analysis.
Both Katz and Shriver had asked for additional information in advance of the meeting, but had not gotten it.
Apparently, the staff had expected the Council to simply rubber stamp its choice – on the basis of a 14-page report, much of which was devoted to a kind of history of the project rather than the Related proposal and its projected costs, financial impacts, and rationale.
When Mayor Pro Tem Bobby Shriver pressed for more detailed financial data, a staff member said a “simplistic” chart was available.
Shriver replied that he was not “a simplistic man” and was quite capable of reading and analyzing financial data.
What followed was pure farce, as acting City Manager Gordon Anderson, City Attorney Marcia Moutrie and other staff members discussed what was available, what Shriver and Katz wanted to see and whether the Council had the right or authority to see all the data.
The discussion was inconclusive and the Council tabled the item.
City staff frequently makes ludicrous proposals, but in proposing that a public project built on public land go forward without letting the public or its elected officials know how much it’s going to cost, the staff outdid itself.
We would like to think that when a project has farcical aspects, it will not go forward, but, unfortunately, the townscape is littered with evidence that our optimism is unfounded.Watch out!