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Santa Monicans Get Rowdy at Miramar Redevelopment Meeting

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark


Rusty's Surf

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

May 17, 2013 -- A routine meeting erupted into chaos Thursday night when opponents of a proposed $225 million redevelopment project for the Fairmont Miramar Hotel demanded the floor to speak.

Pandemonium broke loose when residents were told that the format of the meeting -- geared to get feedback about what they wanted to see studied in the project's Environmental Impact Report (EIR) -- would preclude any general public comment.

Instead, residents would visit five stations and tell City staff and consultants at each station about what they want studied as part of the report.

“I swam up an angry river of residents,” said Council member Kevin McKeown. He was talking about entering the room which was packed wall-to-wall with supporters, stakeholders and opponents of the proposed overhaul of the 86-year-old hotel. .

Having arrived late from another meeting, McKeown had to wait outside the Multi-Purpose Room at the Main Branch library with about a dozen other people because the room was already at its 150-person capacity.

About two-thirds of those in attendance wore stickers in the shape of red stop signs, showing their opposition to the project. As proposed, the project would replace two buildings on the property with three new ones, including a 21-story tower with as many as 120 condominiums.

When Senior Planner Roxanne Tanemori explained the format of the meeting, the room erupted into complaints while some residents stormed out, calling the meeting a “sham.”

Another resident seized the podium. “We want our public comments to be public,” she shouted into the microphone to applause. Some residents claimed that they had been deceived about the meeting and were being silenced.

One resident called the meeting “a missed opportunity,” adding “a lot of us envisioned an opportunity to give input like at a City Council meeting.”

Planning Director David Martin said that there was no attempt to deceive residents about the nature of the meeting. “We advertised a scoping meeting,” he said. “It's about getting input on what should be studied in the EIR.”

An EIR is required by California law and studies the projected impact a development would have on traffic, circulation, the natural environment and even shadows and light in the area.

Staff held the meeting to get input from residents to see what else they would like to be studied in the report. “Some people may have misunderstood the purpose of the meeting,” Martin said.

A few days before the meeting, Save Santa Monica, a group with strong ties to the Huntely Hotel -- the Miramar's neighbor and fierce opponent of the redevelopment project -- distributed a flyer encouraging residents to attend the meeting and voice their frustration.

“Let the City know that you will be watching for tricks and gimmicks,” the flyer reads, “and you want the City to require Michael Dell to follow the rules and meet the City's height and density limits.”

The Miramar is one of five “opportunity sites” -- parcels where City planners believe height and density restrictions should be flexible to allow for localized development -- in Downtown Santa Monica.

Several of the Huntley staff -- including lawyers representing the hotel -- and the hotel's political consultant, Sue Burnside, were at Thursday's meeting.

Also in attendance was former mayor Nat Trives, a supporter of the redevelopment project. He said, “This is amazing.” Trives was standing at the back of the room after a tense exchange with another resident who was opposed to the project.

“What I'm genuinely concerned about is the tone that has developed over angst about this project,” he said.

Jerry Rubin, a local activist, said, “This isn't the Jerry Springer show.” He called much of the chaos at the start of the meeting, “destabilizing rudeness.”

Carl Hansen, director of Government Affairs for the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce and resident of the Wilmont Neighborhood, where the project is located, said, “What upsets me is when (opponents) say residents don't want this project.

“I'm a resident, too,” he said. “And there are 89,000 other people not here tonight.”

Staff emphasized that Thursday's meeting was only the start of the EIR process and that there would plenty of time for more public input.

Tanemori said that residents can submit questions and comments for the EIR until June 3 and that, eventually, residents' comments would be made public on the City's website. It could take about seven months before the draft EIR would be ready for public review and comment.

It wouldn't be until after the EIR process is complete that it would go before the Planning Commission and then, the City Council. It could be another year before that happens.

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