Local peace activists have denounced a reversal by the state Coastal Commission's staff of its earlier recommendation to limit expansion of the Rand Corp. headquarters in Santa Monica, calling the shift a "back room deal" that ignored the concerns of opponents of the think tank's military research.
Until last week, the staff had recommended that Rand's proposed expansion on its 15-acre Main Street site be limited to 10% of its 285,000 square feet of office space and that it provide two public-access routes to the beach through its property.
Rand, which employs more than 900 people, threatened to relocate if the commission accepted the recommendation.
After meeting separately with Rand representatives and Santa Monica city officials, the staff reconsidered its stand and decided not to impose any limits on Rand's expansion and not to require the public-access routes, said commission planner Teresa Henry.
The move angered leaders of the recently created Committee Against Rand Expansion, who said they found out about the changes just before they were to meet with the staff on Monday.
"We were ignored," said committee spokesman Jerry Rubin. "They heard from the city and they heard from Rand and they changed without meeting our committee."
"We think that is a cavalier way to treat the matter because it ignores public opinion, it ignores discussion of the war planning (Rand) does," added committee member Anthony Russo.
Henry said the staff did not wait to meet with the committee for the sake of expediency.
"We can't continue to hold off making our staff recommendation indefinitely," she said.
Russo said the change "has all the appearances of a back room deal."
Henry said that the staff previously cited a need for visitor-related uses, such as a hotel or restaurants, in its original opposition to the Rand expansion.
However, the staff changed its position after concluding that the need to develop such uses on the Rand property was not essential because the site is relatively far from the beach and there are other properties nearby that the city wants to develop for those purposes.
"There was nothing back-room at all," she said. "This is common practice. We typically and regularly meet with applicants for the smallest permits to the largest one," she said.
She said the issue is far from decided and that the public will be able to address the commission at its July 9 meeting at Burton Chace Park in Marina del Rey.
City Manager John Jalili said he was pleased with the staff's new recommendation.
"Rand is a major employer in Santa Monica," he said. "We felt that it is important that it is not located out of the community."
Rand spokesman Paul Weeks said the think tank has grown 20% since 1984 and is suffering a shortage of office space.
Rubin said he and Russo delivered a petition signed by 1,200 people opposing the Rand expansion and the think tank's war and nuclear weapon-related research to Mayor James Conn's office on Tuesday.
They also plan an anti-Rand expansion rally in front of the Rand headquarters on July 3, he said.