As he strode from door to door on a misty night in Santa Monica recently with his printouts of registered voters and his colorful pamphlets, Jerry Snyder looked for all intents and purposes like a typical politician on the move.
"Hi," he said, thrusting his hand out to strangers who eyed him warily from their doorsteps. "I'm Jerry Snyder and I'd like to talk to you."
But Snyder is no politician. And he is not exactly looking for votes. He is a major developer trying to drum up residents' support for a 1.4-million-square-foot commercial complex that he hopes to place in their neighborhood.
Call it developer diplomacy or an act of desperation in an era of slow growth. Snyder, founder and president of the Los Angeles-based J. H. Snyder Co., contends that the unorthodox idea will pay off in the long run.
"I was really apprehensive at first," Snyder said. "But it has worked out OK. I have really been amazed at how receptive people are."
Snyder is expected to visit about 300 homes in the area surrounding his 17-acre development site at 2500 Colorado Blvd. before the proposal goes to Santa Monica's Planning Commission on Nov. 30. He is also meeting regularly with neighborhood leaders and will hold an open house for residents on Monday.
Stemming the Tide
The 57-year-old developer, who has been in business for almost 40 years, and has a home in Bel-Air and a Rolls Royce to show for it, said he hopes to stem the tide of opposition that usually occurs over major construction projects by dealing up front with residents' concerns about traffic, pollution and noise.
An hourlong walk down two streets in the project area last week yielded mixed results. Mary White, who lives in a town house about four blocks from the 17-acre development site, appeared to be genuinely flattered to find the affable white-haired developer on her doorstep and told Snyder she supported him.
Another man startled Snyder by proclaiming, "Hey, I love development," before he explained that he is also a developer.
Others told Snyder that they were not interested in talking about the project. And one woman who asked not to be identified practically flew into a rage at the site of the developer.
"Traffic is just getting worse and we feel very much invaded," the woman said.
"She was obviously very upset," Snyder replied as he walked away.
Snyder's project, known as the Water Garden, would be bounded by Olympic Boulevard, Cloverfield Boulevard, Colorado Avenue and 26th Street and would include a cluster of offices, shops and restaurants around a man-made lake.
The $250-million development proposal comes at a time when the slow-growth movement is gaining momentum in Santa Monica. Placard-waving residents have expressed outrage over the increasing traffic that is choking some city streets and recently waged an emotional but unsuccessful battle against another 1.5-million-square-foot project slated for the same area as Snyder's.
Duke Kelso, one of the leaders of Santa Monica's slow-growth movement, is one of the people who has been meeting regularly with Snyder over the Water Garden project.
Kelso said that he is impressed thus far with the developer's commitment to neighborhood concerns such as traffic mitigation.
"Jerry Snyder is a reputable builder and he's also a good guy," said Kelso, who usually isn't so kind in his assessment of developers. "He has made the effort to meet with all of the neighbors."
Kelso added, however, that Snyder still has to convince residents that he will follow through on promises of street widenings and other improvements if he has any real expectation of garnering neighborhood support.
Santa Monica City Councilman Dennis Zane, who has aligned himself with recent slow-growth efforts, said Snyder also must deal with the city's concerns, which could be different from those of the project's immediate neighbors.
"I'm not sure whether it's possible to work out all of these problems in advance," Zane said. "Going door-to-door generates support, no question. But it doesn't help reduce traffic citywide, and that's the bottom line for me."
Snyder, however, appears confident that he can avoid a major confrontation with residents as his project winds its way through the city bureaucracy.
"You know what?," Snyder said he as headed down another street on a dark and stormy night. "We've got the neighbors on our side."