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Santa Monica’s Soul is at Stake
By Paul Rosenstein
As someone who co-chaired the original Civic Center Specific Plan and chaired the working groups for both the Downtown Plan and the Transit Mall, I am deeply concerned with the proposal to re-develop Santa Monica Place. I urge the City Council to reject the various alternatives presented by city staff.
There are aspects of this current proposal that have shocked many Santa Monicans and have brought people (like me) out of the woodwork. Most objections have focused on the 25-story heights above ground level of the condo towers. (I assume this was a bargaining ploy to win a compromise of 15-stories or so.) Nevertheless, it has gotten the attention of many of us who are now looking more critically at the entire project.
This property is the most strategic site proposed for re-development in the city. It is potentially the missing link -- tying together the Downtown, the Civic Center and the Pier. But, I believe that the soul of Santa Monica is at stake.
For years a majority of the City Council and our residents have valued the goals of maintaining diversity in our community. This view was reaffirmed by the clear consensus of the 170 residents who attended the General Plan workshop this weekend. In contrast, the Macerich plan would greatly accelerate gentrification.
For this, City land and public funds -- $130 million? -- are being requested and we are asked to waive the human-scale height limits that have been a part of Santa Monica becoming such a desirable community in which to live and visit. If the height limits are waived, there will be tremendous pressures to raise them for many other projects (like hotels, the most tempting tax-lucrative projects of all).
Redevelopment funds, which are siphoned from the county (which desperately needs money for such niceties as public health) are supposed to be used to fight urban blight, not encourage gentrification.
The Macerich web site describes its vision: "Where to shop in America: SoHo, South Beach, Santa Monica.. Here the synergy of internationally recognized luxury tenants from Paris, Milan and London are poised to create the ultimate decadent shopping experience. From the affluent to the ultra-rich."
Macerich's limited community presentations (where input was not encouraged) gave us more reasons to be concerned: luxury condos in a gated community with a private park (the sketches resemble the Santa Monica Shores apartments) and shops which look like the Century City shopping mall or parts of Rodeo Drive.
The architects' credits also don't reassure us -- the Bellagio and Forum Shops in Las Vegas and Universal City Walk. The new shops, we are told, will look old. Just what we need -- another faux downtown, another Grove.
The new plan shows no outdoor dining (that has been so important to our Promenade) but it will be sanitized of unpleasantries of city life. The food courts are to be moved further away from the rest of the Promenade.
What is the public benefit that justifies more high-end fashion shops and luxury condos in a setting that does not resemble Downtown?
According to Macerich's calculations, 60 percent of those living within a six-mile radius of SM Place have household incomes of under $75,000. Where are they to shop in Santa Monica?
If the council does make the mistake of moving forward, it should not treat this as a routine Development Agreement where the developer proposes and the City disposes. For example, staff is proposing that the developer conduct public meetings. Rather, the City, through a working group or some other mechanism, should guide the public input process.
This process should be viewed as a public-private partnership. After all, the public's land and money are involved (not mentioned at all in the staff report). The City, through the public process, should be looking at the community's interest in the plan. The Negotiating Parameters listed in the staff report should be a starting point.
It is important to add an economic impact analysis. The community has a right to know all the impacts so we can decide if we will challenge the Development Agreement at the ballot box.
Paul Rosenstein is a former mayor and smart growth advocate
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