City Councilmember and re-election candidate Pam O’Connor took “unusual” donations from executives of Macerich Company, the owner of Santa Monica Place shopping mall, in March 2005, according to a statement issued Wednesday, August 2, by the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC). O’Connor acknowledged receiving the contributions but denied that there was anything unusual, stating that she could and did accept “contributions from a range of sources of people and not be influenced.”
SMCLC’s statement said that during March 2005 “Ms. O’Connor took contributions from 13 Macerich executives in order to retire almost all of her outstanding campaign debt that she incurred during her 2002 election campaign” and that this “accounted for 13 of the 15 contributions” and “86 percent of the dollars” she received during the first six months of 2005. At the same time, SMCLC said, Macerich was “soliciting community input for the redevelopment of the mall.”
The councilmember told the Mirror that the Macerich contributions were a “small portion” of the overall cost of her 2002 campaign, and noted that she voted against the mall redevelopment that Macerich was proposing at that time when the matter came to a City Council vote.
SMCLC charged in its statement that “Ms. O’Connor failed to criticize…or ask any hard questions” about Macerich’s “massive proposal for Santa Monica Place, which included three 21-story towers.” Macerich later took that proposal off the table altogether, and is now in the process of gathering community comments for a much more modest renovation of the mall that will preserve its all-retail character.
Referring to the fact that she voted against the Macerich proposal, O’Connor said there were “not a lot of hard questions to ask when the bottom line answer was going to be no. They [Macerich] put forward a project that was not going to fly, and now they are pursuing a whole new thing.”
“Macerich executives contributed to the campaigns of a number of current Santa Monica City Councilmembers,” said Macerich manager of Development Relations Robyn Young, when asked for comment. “We routinely respond to requests for campaign contributions from city officials and candidates in communities across the country where we have shopping centers. However, we always anticipate that city officials will represent the interests of their constituencies. In the case of Santa Monica Place, this commitment to residents’ preferences led to a ‘thumbs down’ for our earlier, high-rise proposal. We hope that our new ideas for a smaller scale revitalization of Santa Monica Place will be embraced because they fit better with the community’s vision.”
The statement from SMCLC was presented as an effort to influence the endorsement decision of Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR), which convenes this Sunday, August 6, to consider candidates for the November 7 City Council election. O’Connor has been elected to the council three times with the SMRR endorsement.
Although SMCLC did not expressly take a position on O’Connor’s candidacy, it charged that O’Connor “has shown lack of judgment and raised serious questions about her independence,” and it said it “urges” SMRR to look closely at her campaign disclosure statements. Those statements, available to the public through the City Clerk’s office, clearly show the Macerich affiliation of each of the contributors.