Conceding that it has been unable to effectively manage the Santa Monica Pier for years, the city this week made a private corporation responsible for the 77-year-old facility.
The City Council on Tuesday unanimously agreed to give primary planning and management functions to the Pier Restoration Corp., which was was formed in 1983 but not given any specific role beyond developing a restoration plan for the storm-damaged facility.
City Manager John Jalili said that the 12-member corporation "could not possibly be as unwieldly" as the city in its attempts to manage the pier. There have been 10 different pier managers in the last decade and management responsibilities have been divided among three different city departments.
Annual City Subsidy
Jalili said that the pier has received an annual city subsidy that now averages between $400,000 and $800,000. He doubted whether the pier, under city management, ever broke even because city costs of providing security guards were attributed to the Park and Recreation Department rather than to the ledgers of pier management.
"Let's face it," Jalili said, "management of the pier by the city has not been ideal. We had too many decision makers and a lot of confusion about who was in charge. Essentially, the corporation will do what it does best and the city does poorly."
Jalili conceded that the corporation has been "perceived by the public to be slow" in developing reconstruction plans and starting other pier projects.
But, he added, the corporation has been reluctant to act in areas where its authority had not been established by the City Council. "Obviously," he said, "we are going to expect a lot more from the corporation now that its responsibilities are clearly defined."
Under a five-year agreement negotiated by Jalili, the corporation will strive to produce more revenue-generating activities on the pier, negotiate and manage lease agreements, resolve tenant disputes, plan the pier's future and publicize its events.
Made up of community representatives and technical and business experts, the corporation also will play a major advisory role on parking, maintenance, security and pier reconstruction, functions that will be under the direct control of the city General Services Department.
The General Services Department previously shared jurisdiction over the pier with the Park and Recreation Department and the Community Economic and Development Department. "We felt it was imperative to place all city functions under one department to streamline the whole process," Jalili said.
Gail Markens, executive director of the corporation, praised the city action, saying, "It's time, already." The corporation had been seeking a management contract from the city for a year.
Markens dismissed public criticism of the corporation for "moving slowly" on pier projects. "To criticize us for not doing anything when, in fact, we did not have any authority to do anything is illogical," she said.
"We cannot solve 10 years of problems with management of the pier overnight. Expectations from the public when the corporation was formed were unrealistic. Now, the public has a better understanding of the economics of the pier."
In the next 12 months, she said, the corporation hopes to lease the 4,000 square feet of retail space under construction as part of Carousel Park, at the entrance to the pier; reopen a new restaurant at Moby's Dock, an eatery out of business since the 1983 storms; develop a plan for the entire pier; continue to upgrade a special-events series conducted in a tent on the pier, and improve existing businesses.
The corporation also will seek to interest entrepreneurs in locating an entertainment-food complex in the vacant Sinbad's restaurant and another, soon-to-be-vacant building on the pier.
Some of the activities, particularly the opening of a new restaurant at Moby's Dock, will have to await completion of a plan to strengthen parts of the existing pier.
The City Council Tuesday awarded a $47,800 contract to Daniel Mann Johnson and Mendenhall to draft a plan.
Stan Scholl, director of general services, said that the strengthening, to cost something less than $1 million, will start in March and be completed in June. He also plans to add 37,000 square feet to the southern end of the pier lost to the storms. All that delays the six-month project is development of an environmental impact report, Scholl said.
Construction of the 420-foot seaward section of the pier could be done in conjunction with the latter project, but Scholl said there could be a delay if controversy arises over any part of the reconstruction program.
"You know me," he said. "I've got a reputation of running over people to get things done. I will go as fast on the reconstruction as I am allowed to go."