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Big Plans Afoot

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 courthouse.

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 allocated.

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.

Stay tuned.


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 and honor.

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 United States.

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.

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