As a decision neared this week on whether Santa Monica voters would get the chance to pass judgment on the city's plan for a large commercial development at Santa Monica Municipal Airport, opposition to the project surfaced on two new fronts.
Los Angeles City Council members Marvin Braude and Ruth Galanter, who represent districts neighboring the airport, sent a letter to Santa Monica Mayor Dennis Zane saying they have instructed Los Angeles building officials not to issue any city permits required for the project until all questions about traffic are resolved to their satisfaction.
Although the airport project would be built entirely on land owned by the city of Santa Monica, the only planned access to it is via Bundy Drive, a Los Angeles street. Braude and Galanter said this gives the city of Los Angeles considerable leverage to force changes or reductions in the scope of the development.
Current plans, already approved by the city of Santa Monica, call for an 822,000-square-foot development on 37 acres in the southeast corner of the airport, consisting of six buildings of six stories each and four parking garages. Officials at Reliance Development Group, the company chosen to build the project, have said they will insist on renegotiating their agreement with the city if additional reductions are made.
It was too early to tell this week how great a threat the Los Angeles council members' letter posed to the project, but Santa Monica officials said they are confident that Braude's and Galanter's concerns could be addressed without delaying construction.
Meanwhile, a Santa Monica attorney accused the City Council of violating the state Brown Act for allegedly adjourning and then reconvening without notice at its Oct. 10 meeting, when it voted 4 to 3 to approve the project.
Attorney Lloyd Kirschbaum, who already has filed a separate suit challenging the project on behalf of a Santa Monica homeowner, contends in another letter that a series of telephone discussions among some council members before the Oct. 10 meeting also violated the Brown Act, the state law regulating public meetings.
These developments are just the latest challenges to a project that has seemingly been in trouble since the City Council in 1987 selected Reliance to develop 37 acres of city-owned land at the southeast corner of the airport.
Reliance originally proposed building 1.3 million square feet of commercial and retail space, but as opposition from neighboring residents grew over potential traffic problems, the size of the project dwindled. The 822,000-square-foot version was adopted by the council at the Oct. 10 meeting.
Supporters of the project argue that the expected $25 million in revenues it would generate in its first 10 years is needed to maintain the current level of city services.
But many residents in Santa Monica and neighboring areas of Los Angeles have continued to oppose the project. Many opponents are urging that the land be turned into a park.
A drive to force the Santa Monica City Council to rescind its approval or place the matter on the ballot began two weeks ago. As of Wednesday, about 8,000 signatures had been gathered. Sharon Gilpin, a spokeswoman for the group organizing the drive, said she was confident that the 5,644 valid signatures of registered voters needed to force a referendum would be collected by the deadline of 5 p.m. today.
Zane and three former mayors appealed to voters last week not to sign the referendum petition.
Ruth Goldway, who was mayor in 1981, warned that if the project is not built, residents risk an expanded airport, which "would be far more detrimental to their quality of life than a stable building."
"I think a lot of these people are good-hearted, but they lack the understanding that having 30-odd acres saved for park space doesn't develop it into parks, doesn't maintain it as parks, and in fact, simply preserves the 213-acre profile of the airport as it exists today," she said.
Zane said a city staff report indicates that it would cost about $10 million to build a park on the site, and $800,000 annually to maintain it.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles residents who have not been able to participate in the referendum drive--which is limited to Santa Monica registered voters--successfully lobbied their City Council representatives to join in the fight to block the project.
"Throughout the whole process we have been treated as second-class citizens because we live in Los Angeles," said Greg Thomas, a spokesman for a Los Angeles residents group called Homeowners Organized to Monitor the Environment. "Starting today, it is a whole new ballgame, and they have to talk to us now.
"For over two years the neighborhoods of West Los Angeles have been unwilling participants in Santa Monica's game of environmental roulette," Thomas said. "It is our streets that will suffer the most, and yet our pleas for compassion have quickly been dismissed."