RESIDENT TO PLANNER: PRESERVING SANTA MONICA’S TRUE VALUE

Dear Jing Yeo:

There are three projects to be considered together. With the Village
Trailer Park Project revising its plan, Roberts’ DEIR and Jack Walter being sent back to the drawing board, it seems best to wait and consider all the
projects as they work together to benefit the community.

One question the City needs to decide is “What is the value of a piece of property?” I hear that the City Yards are on land valued at $225 million, but what does that mean? Certainly it is not worth that much with the City Yards sitting on it. The City of Los Angeles has just discovered that the value ofits downtown area has increased by introducing a park to the area. Sometimes space can create more value than a building, even a building collecting rent. That is because value is increased by use.

So far, the area of the Roberts Project, along with the two contiguous projects, is loaded with buildings, rentals, retail outlets, and office space, a road to carry more traffic, and walkways for better access to these facilities. I see nothing that increases the value of this land in accordance with how it might be valued were it of greater use to the community. For a town that has neglected one of the Key Elements of a City -– Open Space -– we are quick to let developers have their way with what, in a historic sense, belongs to us.

Like the story of the goose that laid the golden egg, the value of the goose exists in its use -– laying eggs. When we allow developers to follow their own bent rather than provide what is best for others, we offer them a valuable goose to divide up as they choose. When we do that, our goose is cooked.

Let’s preserve our city’s value by allowing this large piece of land so close to the Expo coming into our town to be the first step of a journey many might take through our town to enjoy what is authentic about Santa Monica — to see what Santa Monica has to offer. If we put off this project until we have worked out our design for an area plan, figured out appropriate updates on our zoning code, and then offer developers an opportunity to help us realize the value of the property they have been invited to help develop, everyone should be better off.

Otherwise, we are making a honking mistake,

Gregg Heacock
1528 Yale Street #4
Santa Monica, CA 90404

PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE THIS EVENING

Everyone is welcome to watch the first Presidential debate at Westside Democratic Headquarters, 1408 Third Street Promenade, third floor, from 5 to 8 p.m. this evening.

But if you’re a Mitt Romney person, it would wise not to make too much noise about it, or Obama people will assume you’re either incredibly dumb…or demented, for there is no other basis for supporting this arrogant fool.

CITY COUNCIL AND LIMITS OF DEMOCRACY

Dear City Council Members and Community Leaders,

In the midst of an election, where candidates are answering questions about what actions they would take if elected to office, events happening around the city suggest that the members of City Council have less effect on what happens than we imagine.

I wrote to you yesterday to share the concerns of Cris Gutierrez, Jerry Manpearl, and Jan Goodman that a request being made by Mayor Richard Bloom and Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis that people might have to secure a Temporary Use Permit for events held in the R-1 zone (1) that might involve more than a certain amount of people–say, 150–and (2) that would be to benefit or be sponsored by a commercial, political, or charitable entity or (3) that would impose a fee, contribution, or other charge for entry. Having been to some political events held by Jerry Manpearl and Jan Goodman at their home, I could see why they might be concerned that such a request could result in ordinances that would affect the right of free speech. Also, I asked why the codes we had in place about noise would not cover any situation that was truly out of hand.

Gleam Davis kindly responded that she and Richard had no intention of curbing free speech. Instead, wrote Gleam, their request for tonight’s City Council meeting “is directed to what is happening on La Mesa where a company is running a party house that is hosting many events attended by hundreds of people. Unfortunately for the neighbors on La Mesa who cannot get into their own homes because the street is blocked by traffic and valet shuttles and who have endured threats and damage to trees and other property, it is “broken.” The City Attorney’s office has indicated that there is no regulation against running this party house in a residential neighborhood and so Richard and I have brought forth tomorrow night’s item.” In other words, the City Attorney’s office is saying that the codes we have are not sufficient to deal with this problem. Having stepped into this matter by sending around Cris Gutierrez’s email, I felt the obligation to send around Gleam’s as well.

Next, I received an email from Diana Gordon of Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City, saying that people had good reason to be concerned. She went on to write, “Likewise the policy question of whether it’s a good idea to enact an ordinance for 1 house venue problem when there are laws on the books that can be invoked if violated is certainly a legitimate question too. These issues are properly raised WHEN the item is being discussed for exactly the reason you pointed out – unintended and perhaps unconstitutional consequences.” It is always pleasant to receive such validation. I wrote to Diana that I would send this out to the same people who had received my other emails on this subject.

But, before doing that, I spoke to Gleam Davis after the League of Women Voters Candidate Forum at the library auditorium last night and shared with her what Diana had to say. Gleam understood people’s concern about strengthening the City’s position to deal with one outrageous situation. As for Diana’s claim that “there are laws on the books that can be invoked if violated,” she said that the City Attorney’s office seems unwilling to enforce these laws for fear of suits.

Yes, what is a City Council member to do if the City Attorney’s office is unwilling to enforce the laws on the books? I do not mean to make light of this dilemma. We might ask why the Civil Rights Bill should be passed if we already had the 14th Amendment, or why should we then have to pass a Voting Rights Bill after that? We might also ask why those bills seem ineffective in dealing with the expected denial of voting rights in the coming national election by states insisting seeing a Driver’s License before allowing people to vote. As Gleam put it, “We are just legislators.” Her powers are limited to passing laws that can and will be enforced if the laws, presently on the books, aren’t being carried out.
So, the power City Council members have to decide matters is limited. Now, let me put before you a different situation that shows their powers to be so limited that we might question whether we have proper representation in this city.

Before the candidate forum, Northeast Neighbors held it public board meeting upstairs at the library to discuss with two members of the City Planning staff how it was that Fresh & Easy, a store opposed by most who attended a float-up on the store coming into their neighborhood, was now going forward without any public notice other than a personal phone call made to the leaders of two neighborhood groups in that area.

At the time of the float-up, Fresh & Easy had requested variances to come into the building on Wilshire & Harvard formerly occupied by the Magnolia outlet. As a self-checkout store selling alcohol resulting in suits in various other communities for selling alcohol to minors and in violation of new State-laws preventing such sale, a variance was required that the City seemed willing to give. Still, that presented a problem. And, as a change of use–switching from a commercial retail selling audio-video products to a grocery store would require more parking–the square footage of the store required Fresh & Easy to have more parking than was available. Though Fresh & Easy said that it had arranged for parking for their employees at other locations, neighbors who had experienced their residential parking being taken over by employees and customers of other establishments feared more intrusion.

So, how did this project go forward with so much working against it? First, Fresh & Easy decided not to sell alcohol, so no variance would be needed for that. Then, a portion of the old Magnolia store was being divided off from the store to serve as a storage warehouse for an entity other than Fresh & Easy. This would reduce the square-footage enough so that the parking spaces available would fit our present zoning code. This the neighborhood leaders had heard when they were called by Russell Bunim, the Associate Planner overseeing this project. But what we were not told until this meeting was the the entity wiling to pay high rent for storage space that would allow Fresh & Easy to come into the neighborhood was none other than the City of Santa Monica!

The Planning Department, in deciding to pay for storage (when cheaper space, costing taxpayers less, might be found elsewhere), had forced a decision on our City without involving the Planning Commission or our City Council. So much for democracy!
So, having listened to candidates give their answers to the question of what they would do if elected to City Council, I realized that any answers I thought I might give now needed to be questioned.
Thought you’d like to know,

Gregg Heacock

P.S. Here is tonight’s City Council agenda:
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RESIDENTS CHALLENGE BUS AD BAN

Once upon a time, Santa Monica made headlines as “the most radical city in America.” “60 Minutes” dubbed it “Left City.”

Several months ago, Forbes magazine named downtown Santa Monica one of the nation’s “best shopping downtowns.”

And during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation will present the City with a proclamation declaring it a finalist for the “Most Business-Friendly City in Los Angeles County” Award.

City officials relish these toy awards. Somewhere, deep in City Hall, I imagine a mantelpiece laden with them. But as far as I know, there isn’t one for the Most Resident-Friendly City in Los Angeles County. And if there were, Santa Monica wouldn’t win it.

At its September 11 meeting, the Council reaffirmed a 2001 policy banning
non-commercial ads on Big Blue Buses.

Last week, AIDS Walk LA founder Craig Miller, Lisa Brisse and Paloma Bennett, all Santa Monica residents, filed a lawsuit against the City, challenging the ban, and seeking an injunction to permit them to advertise AIDS WALK LA, which is scheduled for October 14, on the buses.

Miller believes the City’s policy is unconstitutional, a violation of our absolute right to free speech and equal protection. He said, “All three of us love our city. We’re sure as heck not seeking any money. .Most importantly, we view it as a violation of the values of the people of my city of Santa Monica.” 

We agree.

Last year the City told AIDS Walk L.A. that it couldn’t continue to advertise on the Big Blue Bus as the 2001 policy prohibits noncommercial ads on buses, in order to prevent Santa Monica’s bus system from becoming an “open forum.”

Since the Constitution makes the entire country an “open forum,” and, to our knowledge, does not confer special privileges on commercial ads and/or buses, the City’s policy seems not only unconstitutional, but goofy.

In spite of the 2001 ban on noncommercial ads, AIDS Walk L.A. continued to advertise on Big Blue until last year. 

“I think the City employees who allowed the ads to be placed did not carefully take into account that noncommercial advertising was not allowed,” said Deputy City Attorney Anthony Serritella.

“It’s a question of the primary purpose of the ad. Does it promote a product or service? That’s how commercial activity is defined within the guidelines…the City has its guidelines and intends to enforce them.”

The Santa Monica City Council voted 4 to 3 to reaffirm the policy as the majority apparently believes that allowing non-commercial advertisements might cause the buses to become open forums for potentially offensive debates.

But censorship, especially anticipatory censorship, is far more offensive. Commercial advertising is frequently offensive, of course, but it’s also lucrative.

Council member Kevin McKeown said, “

The Big Blue Bus is the rolling ambassador of Santa Monica throughout the entire region, If we let any kind of message that’s going through L.A. and other communities, it’s going to reflect on not just on the Big Blue Bus, but also on Santa Monica.”



What? We’re more concerned about embarrassing our buses than preserving freedom of speech?

AIDS Walk Los Angeles is not only an extraordinary event, it raises much-needed funds. It’s an L.A. tradition, and a most worthy one.

Miller’s suit will be discussed by the Council in closed session
tonight, but he plans to speak at 5:30 p.m. before it closets itself, object to the perpetuation of this mindless policy and demand that this unconstitutional rule be abandoned and AIDS WALK L.A. be permitted to advertise its October 14 edition on the buses. We hope other residents
will follow him to the podium.

You can also flood the Council office with emails:council.smgov.net.

WILMONT CHAIR SINGS NEW TUNE

With apologies to T.S. Eliot, it began with a bang and ended with a whisper.

Several months ago, at the Planning Commission’s initial hearing on the proposed expansion of the Miramar Hotel, Valerie Griffin, chair of the Wilshire-Montana Neighborhood Organization (WILMONT), announced that
it supported the expansion as its proposed 485-space underground parking garage would relieve the neighborhood’s chronic parking crisis.

Later in the hearing, a Wilmont member alleged that, in fact, many Wilmont members opposed the Miramar plan, which would double the hotel’s size and increase its height by several stories, but Griffin and some cohorts had rigged the vote and ignored the naysayers.

At the group’s annual meeting on June 9 in the Main Library, turmoil prevailed. Griffin adjourned the meeting, but the dissidents ignored her and held an election for board members. They subsequently delivered the sealed votes to Zina Josephs, chair of the Friends of Sunset Park, for safe keeping.

The turmoil continued. Griffin hired a lawyer and, on her advice, expelled the dissidents from Wilmont for violating its rules, but the dissidents challenged her decision and called a meeting of the group at the Ken Edwards Center. Griffin attended, but spent most of the evening in the hall, attempting to talk a Center employee into banishing the dissidents.

Griffin then issued a series of lengthy statements in which she claimed to have the right as well as the responsibility to expell the dissidents as they were in violation of the group’s by-laws as set down by the state for non-profit corporations. They, in turn, said Griffin exceeded her authority and violated their rights as residents of Wilmont, Santa Monica’s most densely populated neighborhood, by attempting to banish them.

Responding to queries from the dissidents and the media, Griffin claimed the attorney’s fees were being paid by an apparently sympathetic “donor,” but refused to name him or her.

Then, on September 27, Griffin sent a five page letter to Wilmont members, announcing an annual meeting on October 20.On the agenda are an election, statements from two board candidates, some suggested changes in the bylaws, and a number of resolutions for the members to approve or disapprove.

One of the resolutions is especially pertinent: “We oppose the Miramar project presented to the City Council. At 550,000 square feet with 120 condominiums, it’s too big.”