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    Mall Redevelopment Falls Behind Schedule

By Olin Ericksen and Jorge Casuso

July 6 -- City officials appear to be walking a tightrope between developers and a group of civic leaders who have very different ideas about just how much time and community discussion is needed before Santa Monica Place undergoes its multimillion-dollar transformation.

While the mall's owner and developer, the Macerich Company, is worried the City will miss the deadline the City Council set in January to view the project, a group of nearly 60 residents is asking City officials to hit the brakes on a process it has called "seriously flawed."

City officials said Wednesday that they would make sure that the community will have ample say during a process that is still being hammered out.

"We haven't worked out what the process going forward is going to be," said Assistant City Manager Gordon Anderson, who is in charge of the project for the City. "We're in the process of doing that now.

"Right now we are in the middle of the summer months, and many residents are not around," Anderson said. "I don't think there will be community meetings before the end of the summer."

Already, the City has fallen several months behind on the proposal to redevelop the mall, which includes adding as many as 450 residential units, 100,000 square feet of office space and a park perched above two floors of retail.

In January, the council indicated to staff that the project should be "substantially expedited" and co-sponsored four public workshops and seven small group meetings in March and April to gather community input on a vision for the 25-year-old mall.

While consultants released a report based on the meetings in May and Macerich's architects have come up with working plans based on the input, the company is still waiting for an economic analyses by the City, which owns the mall's two parking structures.

City officials -- who were expecting to hold two community meetings during the summer and bring the project before the Planning Commission by August -- said the number of meetings has not been determined and acknowledged a proposal will not reach the Planning Commission in August, as originally planned.

"The time frame was too optimistic," Anderson said. "The consultants are still going through and evaluating input and formulating the development process.

"The next step is to present back to the community what the consultants said they heard, formulating the development concepts and financial analysis," he said. "We should certainly get that back by the end of the summer."

Macerich officials said they are growing concerned about the delays.

"I'm concerned about the length of time the process has taken thus far, however, I understand it, because it's a very complicated process," said Randy Brant, a Macerich vice president in charge of the project.

"I was hoping the process would be moving according to the original schedule," Brant said.

On the other hand, the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City -- comprised of a diverse group of prominent renters, homeowners and three former mayors -- worries that the City is moving forward too quickly at the expense of adequate community input.

"We don't want to funnel the process where it gets tinier and tinier," said Diana Gordon, a spokesperson for the coalition. "When you have a proposal, that's when you want to have real, meaningful community input."

In a July 1 open letter to Anderson, the group voiced its concerns.

"A proposal for a development of this magnitude and complexity clearly warrants at least as much community input as was solicited before there was a proposal," the group wrote.

"While fewer community meetings for this controversial development may be in the best interest in the company putting forward the proposal, it is clearly not in the best interests of Santa Monica residents," the letter said.

"We urge the City to adopt a public process that is meaningful and fair and designed to have residents' voices and choices be heard," said the group, which filed a lawsuit in May charging the City with stonewalling and withholding information concerning the redevelopment.

On Wednesday, in a response to the coalition's letter, Anderson assured the group that there would be "ample opportunity to participate meaningfully in any redevelopment process."

Anderson told The Lookout, "Council directed us to have a meaningful dialogue with the community, and that's what we're doing right now."

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