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Civic Center: A Request to Cut Height of RAND Buildings

August 04, 1994

On Nov. 23, 1993, the Santa Monica City Council approved the Civic Center Specific Plan with a unanimous vote, ending a four-year struggle between the RAND developers and controlled-growth advocates. The plan had been in a constant state of revision, culminating in a 17-page Errata Report which was distributed to the council as the item was being introduced at that meeting.

Alone among his colleagues, Councilman Kelly Olsen said that he thought the development was too big (at 1.9 million square feet), but that he felt obligated to add his approval because, at a meeting the previous day, the RAND developers had agreed to his request that they cut the height of their buildings. He repeated this explanation at a Santa Monicans for Renters Rights City Council candidate-review meeting, where he sought the SMRR endorsement, adding that RAND would not have agreed to the height reduction unless he complied with their wish for unanimous approval of the plan.

As a member of the now-defunct Civic Center Specific Plan Advisory Committee for that long four years, and a retired urban planner and transportation analyst, it is not surprising that I read the Errata Report with some care after the Nov. 23 council meeting, to see what changes had been incorporated into the now-approved final version. I'm sorry to report that the maximum allowed height of the RAND buildings was not reduced as Councilman Olsen had reported, but had actually been increased by 14 feet over the maximum agreed upon in the latest version.

I telephoned Councilman Olsen and, as gently as I could, told him that he had been hoodwinked by the developers. He assured me that if my information was correct, he would ask for reconsideration of the issue and would change his vote.

I never heard back from Councilman Olsen.

I have been puzzled by Councilman Olsen's failure to get back to me on this, but I did not pursue it since it was apparently another done deal by the council. However, now Councilman Olsen is again calling himself a slow-growth candidate, and is again taking credit for getting RAND to reduce the height limit in the Civic Center--which never happened.

This leaves the question--why did this happen? I can only surmise that the RAND-Council-Planning Commission-city staff pro-development team decided to stonewall on this issue and persuaded Councilman Olsen to join them.

As he said at SMRR's candidate review meeting, the result would have been the same whether it was a 7-0 or a 6-1 vote. The Specific Plan would have been approved in either case. But with his vote, the pro-plan campaign could flaunt the "unanimous approval by City Council--which never agrees on anything" tag line.

Even sadder, another good man, who has tried his best to do the right, caring thing for this city, has been convinced that there are times when it is prudent to vote against his principles. Saddest of all, perhaps, he couldn't even collect on his part of this horse trade.

LAUREL ROENNAU

Santa Monica

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