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SMa.r.t. Column: Citizen Victory!

Tuesday night Santa Claus brought Santa Monica a gift that we have waited 7 years for. That evening the City Council voted to end negotiations with the developer who wanted to put an oversized 12 story office/housing/hotel sky scraper on your land at Fifth and Arizona. Misnamed the “Plaza” it was anything but a plaza. Instead it would have destroyed what little chance the local residents had of ever having sufficient open space in the increasingly impacted downtown of a park starved City. 

This City Council vote signals a City that is moving toward meeting the real needs of its residents instead of the needs of developers. It represents the residents flexing their muscles to take back their City and preserve its beach side charm from all the forces that conspire by over development against  this precious original character of our City. And finally it signals, thankfully,  a reborn City Council, led by the newly minted Mayor Sue Himmelrich,  that acts to benefit the many instead of lining the pockets of the few. 

We can now have a robust community debate of exactly how this public land should be developed. While there will be many valid opinions as to what should happen there, as a starting point SMart  feels there should always  be one simple criteria: that a substantial portion of the  2 1/2 acre lot should remain a ground level urban park that would act like our “Central Park” or Boston “Commons” perfectly sited in the geographic center of our burgeoning downtown.   But SMart eagerly awaits all the ideas that may emerge of  both how that park should be programmed and of how buildings, if any,  should be developed. 

This Victory did not just drop down the chimney by itself. It took residents thousands of hours of meetings to stop this pending mistake. It took the bravery of our 3 newest Councilpersons Christine Parra, Phil Brock and Oscar de la Torre, who were willing to run on a slow growth platform responsive to and accountable to residents. But the group the really slew this dragon that was about to incinerate  our downtown, was the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC)  particularly Diana Gordon who started a lawsuit to get the City to actually follow the law regarding how public surplus lands should be treated. For this reason SMart would like to publish their letter below with the back story. Without SMCLC getting the City to actually follow the law (what a concept), we would likely not be celebrating today.

Thank you SMCLC!

SMCLC Letter:

December 16, 2020

Dear Supporter of SMCLC,

Last night was a watershed moment in Santa Monica: Our new City Councilmembers, Phil Brock, Oscar de la Torre, and Christine Parra, along with Mayor Sue Himmelrich, voted to end negotiations with the developer over “The Plaza,” the wildly unpopular project at 4th and 5th and Arizona. 

Following discussions in closed-session, the City Attorney announced that Council is directing staff to cease negotiations with the developers and set an open session for the Council to provide direction as to how to proceed with the property. The Council then approved such a motion (Brock made the motion; Parra seconded; the vote was 4/3). 

We should take a moment to reflect on this remarkable victory for residents and how good it feels to have a majority on City Council, who act as stewards of our public land, instead of favoring a huge private hotel/office development. A Council who actually listened to residents instead of to a well-heeled developer and a Council who wasn’t afraid to recognize a failed process – one that hadn’t genuinely included the community from the outset. 

This win is the result of a sustained community effort by residents who opposed this project from its inception. Earlier this year, we penned an open letter to the City and the developer detailing growing resident opposition that had formed to stop the project and urging them to withdraw their plan to avoid a protracted battle. Here’s our letter signed by neighborhood groups and associations throughout our City: http://www.smclc.net/PDF/MemoCityDev4thArz2-17-20.pdf

Thereafter, when the City elected to move ahead on the project over SMCLC’s legal objections, SMCLC sued the City and the developer over the failure to follow the Surplus Land Act. That Act requires the City to first determine whether to create open space or build affordable housing on public land, before negotiating to privatize it with a commercial development. Then all of us worked hard to elect the new members to the City Council, candidates who were firmly committed to stopping “The Plaza” project from going forward. 

So last night we arrived at a long-awaited reckoning – that seven years of staff negotiations had yielded a failed project that would never get built, and that it’s time to have a REAL community process to decide what options we should pursue for our public land; a process that includes residents from the beginning rather than after a project has been designed and proposed. 

None of this would have happened without your support.

We will let you know when the Council meets to discuss the future of our land. Thank you for standing with us and the community.

Please forward this email to your friends and neighbors to sign up for updates and join in our efforts.

Best,

Victor, Diana, Sherrill, and Jeff

in Opinion
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