By Frank Gruber
November 16, 2009 -- Winter and spring are going to be busy seasons for the City of Santa Monica. In the midst of hiring a new city manager, the City government will be making major decisions about the future of the city.
At the meeting of the City Council Tuesday evening, staff will ask the council to approve the five-year plan (for fiscal years 2010 to 2014) of the City's redevelopment agency. State law requires the adopting of a plan every five years.
Staff will also be asking for authority to negotiate with Eli
and Edythe Broad's family foundations over an exciting plan,
proposed by the Broads,
to build a museum to house their collections of art in the Civic
Center - on Main Street between the Civic Auditorium and the
The plan for the museum is one of those blockbuster projects that come along rarely in a city's history. The fact is, however, that it would have an impact on the City's planning to spend the final money -- projected to be $283 million -- that will be available under the Earthquake Redevelopment Project.
The five-year plan that city staff has proposed to the council largely reflects the decisions the council made last May and June on how to allocate the earthquake project money. The City needs to issue the bonds for this money before 2014, when, barring an extension granted by the state, the City will lose its ability to borrow against the project's tax-increment revenues.
As I wrote in April, a lot depends on how fast the City can plan projects and get them to the bid stage, so that they can be bonded. ("WHAT I SAY -- Shovel and Bond Ready," April 21, 2009)
The City's plans, however, must be considered subject to change. A Broad museum, for example, would require reconsidering plans at the Civic Center, such as for the park that is slated to occupy the current site of the parking lot at Fourth and Pico.
The City Council's approval of the Walker parking report, which
calls for building at least 1,000 fewer spaces than originally
planned, should supplant at least some of the extensive plans
for downtown parking that the council approved conceptually
in June. ("Council
Approves Parking Rate Hike Downtown," September 9, 2009)
To the City's credit, staff is making some headway planning
the projects on the redevelopment agency's list, but a lot needs
to be done.
The City has issued to the planning community either "requests
for qualifications" or "requests for proposals" for several
major projects: the new Pico Neighborhood branch library at
Virginia Avenue Park, the park and "town square" that will be
built between City Hall and Ocean Avenue, the idea of capping
the freeway near the Civic Center, and plans for remaking Colorado
Avenue from Ocean to 17th Street to accommodate the Expo light
rail tracks, the terminus at Fourth Street, and improved pedestrian
connection to the Pier.
But there are other projects on the City's redevelopment list
that will need to be planned, and it's not clear that they can
be planned in time to make the deadline. For instance,
a parking study that is crucial for plans at the Civic Center,
which was supposed to be completed last spring, has not yet
been released, and probably won't be released until at least
January. The Broad museum project, if it goes forward,
might itself require a new analysis of parking requirements
(according to the staff report for the project, the Broads expect
the City to deal with parking for the museum).
If the City can't get its projects planned, then the proponents
of joint use projects at Samohi will make the case that the
money should be spent there - they will be back before the council
to try to get more than the $57 million the council has already
They will also have a strong point to make that if the Broad
museum is going to happen, it would make sense to locate the
soccer field now planned for the park on Fourth Street on the
high school campus. The council should pay attention to
what the Samohi proponents have to say.
Not all the action this winter will concern redevelopment or
the possible museum. At its meeting Wednesday evening
the Planning Commission will take up, for the first time, the
actual language of the new land use and circulation elements
(LUCE) of the City's general plan that have been in the works
for almost five years. However, as of the moment I'm writing
this column, on Sunday, the draft text of the LUCE, however,
is not yet available. I've been told by the Planning Department
that it will be available before the Planning Commission's meeting
by way of the LUCE website.
Obviously, and especially since the text will have been only
available a few days at the most, Wednesday's meeting will only
be the first of many about LUCE for the commission and then
for City Council.
Pardon me while I make a divagation into the politics of the
larger world outside of Santa Monica, but I cannot help myself
from saying something about the Obama Administration's decision,
announced by Attorney General Eric Holder last week, to try
in open court five accused terrorists, including the self-proclaimed
mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. The five have,
of course, been held in military custody at Guantánamo
for many years, and Mr. Mohammed and others of the soon-to-be-defendants
were tortured while in U.S. custody.
The reason I can't help myself is that for me, putting these
men on trial is a hope-come-true. In my column immediately
after 9/11 ("WHAT
I SAY -- Looking Over the Horizon," September 14, 2001)
I wrote this:
"I hope we are as smart as we are tough. I have a fantasy that
the U.S. will obtain and show the Taliban convincing evidence
that Osama bin Laden is guilty, and that the Taliban will give
him up to our justice system. Think what a triumph it would
be to show that we can give our sworn enemy a fair trial.
"I know that is a fantasy, and an unlikely one. We rightly characterize
these atrocities as acts of war. We will not limit ourselves
to judicial process."
Yes, it was a fantasy, a dream, but I didn't expect that the
prosecution of the war against the terrorists and then the prosecution
of the case against the terrorists would turn into a self-inflicted
nightmare of torture and other abuses of our nation's values
Now the Obama Administration is going to try to make it right.
This will be hard to do. I am not a criminal defense attorney,
but it's hard to imagine that in a garden-variety criminal case
in America any federal judge would not dismiss charges against
a defendant on the basis of prosecutorial misconduct if the
defendant had been water-boarded 183 times (as was Khalid Mohammed).
The skills of the prosecuting attorneys will surely be tested;
as will those of the defense attorneys, who will need to provide
a defense that the world will judge for the most despised defendants
in American history.
It will be hard to find an impartial jury. The judge or
judges (if the defendants receive separate trials) will have
to have remarkable skills to keep the proceedings focused on
the facts. The security challenges will be complex.
But if I had to trust a matter fraught with so many difficulties
to any institution, it would be to the federal courts of the
The executive branch under George W. Bush, with the help of
Congress, botched the "War on Terrorism." Osama bin Laden
is still at large, we're tied down in Afghanistan and Pakistan,
and the United States dishonored itself and lost the goodwill
of the world. Now, let's see what the third branch of
government can do.