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Court Orders City to Turn Over Mall Documents; Fight Still Brews on How Much City Knows

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

July 28 -- A group that opposes the current process to redevelop Santa Monica Place received a boost this week when a Superior Court judge ruled that the City must turn over documents it has been seeking for months.

While both sides disagree whether Monday’s decision is final, the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) -- a group of nearly 60 residents, including three former mayors -- hailed the ruling as a victory. (see related story)

"This is an important victory for Santa Monica residents," said Diana Gordon, a spokesperson for the coalition, which has accused the City of withholding documents related to the redesign of the struggling indoor mall Downtown..

"The Court agreed with us that documents the City has withheld are 'public documents' which must be made available so that residents will have the needed information to make informed decisions,” Gordon said. “The City was contending that only documents they selectively release on their websites should be produced."

City officials countered that the court’s decision remains “tentative” and is not final and that the City has already produced a large volume of document to SMCLC for review.

“We have already produced a lot of documents, and the City is certainly not trying to hide anything,” said Deputy City Attorney Cara Silver. “We will continue to cooperate with SMCLC and anyone who wants to review the documents connected to Santa Monica Place’s redevelopment.”

Gordon, however, believes that the judge’s ruling is final and that the City must immediately begin looking for and turning over documents, including emails and attachments between the City and the Macerich Company, which owns the 25-year-old mall.

The documents include information from telephone surveys the City conducted, the names and addresses of residents who attended City workshops and lease and fee interest information for Macy's and Robinsons-May, the mall’s anchor department stores.

The Court also ordered the City to prepare a list of all documents it has withheld on the basis of "privilege," Gordon said. The Court will then determine whether it has properly asserted a privilege.

“What’s still in flux is how many of the source documents the City has not yet turned over,” Gordon said.

Gordon -- who is an attorney -- took aim at the City’s claim that it has produced 2,000 pages of documents, arguing that the City has repeatedly turned over information that “has already been made to the public” and “padded” the documents with information that is not relevant to the group’s requests.

City attorneys said that they have cooperated with the group and that the original dispute arose over how the documents were made available to SMCLC, and not that the City refused to make the documents available.

“The main hang up here was that we made the documents available, but they chose not to copy them,” Silver said.

The suit was filed two months ago by the coalition, which has strongly criticized the ongoing public process to forge a redevelopment proposal that will likely include adding as many as 450 residential units, 100,000 square feet of office space and a park perched above two floors of retail.

The Court set a further hearing on September 26.

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