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|Council Allocates $100 Million in RDA Funds, Hits Impasse on Civic Auditorium|
By Ann K. Williams
May 26, 2011 – In what is likely the largest allocation of Santa Monica Redevelopment Agency (RDA) money during any single day, the City Council locked in nearly $100 million for a number of capital projects Tuesday, but hit a snag when it came to the $46.8 million price tag for the Civic Auditorium remodel.
City staff warned that the council should move quickly to allocate the RDA money, enter into contracts and issue bonds before the state legislature has a chance to pass Governor Jerry Brown's proposal to eliminate California's redevelopment agencies.
“Given the continued uncertainty at the state level regarding redevelopment agencies, we believe it's an opportune time to establish these commitments,” said Andy Agle, director of housing and economic development.
The high ticket items on city staff's list include the Palisades Garden Walk park at $46.1 million, the Civic Auditorium renovation at $46.8 million, $21.2 million for affordable housing and $12.4 million for the Colorado Esplanade.
The council was also asked to set aside $5.9 million for a joint-use agreement with the school district to fix up Santa Monica High School gyms and athletic fields and, in its capacity as the RDA board, enter into a contractual relationship with the district to guarantee future revenue to complete the project.
And part of the package was a contract with the Metro and Expo Line covering Santa Monica's share of costs for three train stations to be built in the city.
The amounts struck some council members as cause for hesitation.
Councilmember Bobby Shriver described the total bill as “fantastic,” “spectacular,” and “dynastic.”
“I'll bet you a dollar to a doughnut that this is the largest sum of money ever spent by the council in one night,” Shriver said, adding that the council should not lose sight of the fact that this spending is discretionary.
Council member Bob Holbrook seemed to agree.
“It's an enormous amount of money,” he said. “We could build a public building or a museum or something when you start talking about $48 or 9 million for a park, $47 million for restoring a civic auditorium.”
After hearing from members of the public, who supported the funds for affordable housing and the Civic Auditorium renovation, the council wound up splitting the staff proposal into three parts.
Since Council member Kevin McKeown works as a consultant for the school district, he recused himself as the council voted on the contract with the school district and the $5.9 million earmark needed to start working on SAMOHI's athletic facilities.
After making sure that that the city won't be on the hook if it can't raise the $57 million in tax revenues it will take to finish the project, Shriver joined his colleagues on the dais in supporting staff's proposal.
Council member Terry O'Day was absent, which became a factor as the council turned its attention to the rest of the items.
Before long, it became apparent that there was a split on the Civic Auditorium renovation.
Calling the $46.8 million price tag “extravagent,” Shriver said that “This isn't exactly what redevelopment was intended for.”
“Even in the best case scenario,” the city will have to subsidize the facility, he said. “Do we want to spend one, two, three million per year from the general fund for that facility?” he asked. “There are other arts uses in the community that could absorb that same two or three million dollars a year.”
Shriver had an ally in Councilmember Gleam Davis, who said that turning the auditorium over to the oversight of a theatrical producer is a risky proposition. The city currently plans to partner with Nederlander Producing Company of America to bring concerts and theatrical productions to Santa Monica once the aging facility is rehabilitated.
“A lot of local theatres lose money on a regular basis,” said Davis. “I've been to shows where you could have shot a cannon through the place and not hit a human being.”
Not only is staff's proposal risky, it doesn't take into consideration the $25 million the city will have to come up with if it's going to replace the auditorium's surface parking that takes up so much space in the civic center now, she added.
And although O'Day was home recuperating from an emergency appendectomy, he has indicated his reluctance to support the remodel.
Holbrook said he's been out of town and needed a few more days to get up to speed on the issue.
That left McKeown, Mayor Richard Bloom and Council Member Pam O'Connor to speak up for the plan.
“This has long been an aspiration for the community,” Bloom said. “Former Mayor Ken Genser, Kevin and I heard person after person after person” supporting rehabilitation of the Civic Auditorium.
“At the end of a process to simply turn around and say we're not going to do it will speak very poorly of our belief in public process and paying attention to the folks we are responsible to.”
The city should be held to the same standards as private owners of landmarked structures, argued O'Connor.
“Are we going to mothball” the auditorium, she asked. “We have a responsibility as stewards.”
“We are responsible to at least bring it up to ADA, seismic standards,” O'Connor said.
Having reached a stalemate, the council agreed to bring the matter back up for a vote on Thursday night, when O'Day will have a chance to be there. The public will have another opportunity to be heard then.
That left the rest of staff recommendations which were passed unanimously after a brief discussion about the $46.1 Palisades Garden Walk price tag.
“It's a big ticket item,” allowed Bloom.
But it's “way below (Chicago's) Millennium (Park), less than Seattle...not at the high end of the spectrum for this kind of park,” said Architectural Services Manager Miriam Mulder.
The council will meet Thursday night to continue discussing the city budget, vote on the allocation of a portion of a recent sales tax increase to the school district and renew debate on allocating funds for the Civic Auditorium remodel.
The public portion of the meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. – not 6:30 p.m. as is usual – in Council Chambers at City Hall, 1685 Main Street.
“I'll bet you a dollar to a doughnut that this is the largest sum of money ever spent by the council in one night.” Bobby Shriver
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