The first of what will probably be a couple of clandestine “citizen” or “neighbor” groups has emerged two months before the election — Santa Monicans for Responsible Growth or SMRG.
Ivan Perkins, a newcomer, Santa Monica parent and local attorney is acting as spokesman for the group which is forming a political action committee, fund raising and plans to support controlled growth City Council candidates.
I e-mailed a number of questions to Perkins on Aug. 17. He responded the next day.
“Many of us involved with SMRG are concerned about the scale and pace of recent developments in Santa Monica, and their impacts on traffic, congestion, and the general look and feel of the city,” he stated, “Personally, I believe that Santa Monica must actively push developers (at least, those who seek to go outside of what current zoning allows) to create iconic, beautiful, and appropriately-scaled designs.”
So far, so good. We’re all on the same track.
“There are about 15 of us on a steering committee so far,” Perkins wrote, adding he “cannot provide a list of members or affiliations because I have not asked for members’ permission to provide such information” and “we are very happy to have like-minded members of the Santa Monica community become involved with our efforts.”
Perkins promised, “I will absolutely let you know who our steering committee members are as soon as I am able to do so. but I am working very hard to be able to do so within a reasonable time frame, such as within a couple of weeks.” How long does it take to contact members for permission to disclose their names and affiliations? And, what if these members say no?
SMRG’s active “efforts” at controlling development seem mostly centered around opposing the Fairmont Miramar Hotel renovation and expansion although Perkins mentioned that “SMRG members are similarly concerned about a variety of other development projects (including the 710 Wilshire project, the Papermate project and Bergamot Station) and the general pace or direction of development in Santa Monica.”
At this point, it’s hard to say if SMRG is affiliated with the management of the Casa del Mar/Shutters hotels, major developers and business interests behind the secretive, pro-development, dirty-tricks Santa Monicans for Quality Government (SMQG) during the 2010 elections or similar phony neighbor organizations formed during previous elections.
Perkins wrote, “I believe that Santa Monica’s tremendous aesthetic and lifestyle advantages are largely due to the good governance of the city over the past several decades. This includes not only the work done by the City Council, the Planning Commission, and city staff, but also the engagement of the citizenry.”
Yet, many residents are upset over recent approvals of a rash of overly large development applications of the kind Perkins says he deplores and that his group “is concerned about.” I’m confused. What’s really going on here?
I asked specifically if SMRG was involved with or is receiving support from the Huntley Hotel owners who oppose the Fairmont Miramar renovation. Perkins responded that he “got involved in this effort (SMRG) on my own” because he saw the Fairmont project as a “massive, unsightly, and unimaginative architectural design for the Miramar location …”
He e-mailed that “We have not received any money from the Huntley Hotel or their management … A couple of people associated with the Huntley have provided organizational help and personal introductions.”
SMRG has strong ties to Fairmont Miramar opponents including Huntley owners. Perkins is a member of the Huntley’s own ersatz pseudo-community group Santa Monicans Against the Miramar. Perkins told surfsantamonica.com, “’Susan Burnside, a prominent political consultant hired by the Huntley to oppose the Mirarmar project, has been a part of to introduction process…” and “he has worked with Manju Raman, the general manager of the Huntley Hotel.” Of course, he didn’t mention that to me in his e-mails.
City Council candidates received questionnaires from SMRG last week which would presumably be used to endorse individuals for council. Most candidates said they will not participate with groups who won’t reveal who controls them, how many members they have and provide information about their mission and history, federal identification numbers and proposed role in the election, reported the Daily Press last Wednesday (”Council candidates steer clear of unknown groups”).
Among the better known council candidates who signed a “transparency agreement” promising not to participate in any secretive group’s forums and activities were incumbents Terry O’Day and Gleam Davis. Being that Davis and O’Day received so much support from SMQG two years ago, does that mean this year they won’t cooperate with or take money from whatever sham citizens group the hotels, developers and other special interests cobble together? Can’t you just smell the hypocrisy?
On Monday, Aug. 20, Perkins e-mailed me again.
“I am totally new at this, and am just feeling my way at this point to try to understand how to manage this committee … I think the public has every right to know exactly who, and with what interests and motivations, is standing behind any election-year endorsements, etc.”
I’d like to think that everything is on the level and that SMRG is a group of straight-up Santa Monicans who want a better community through controlled growth and development. Unfortunately, they’re sending mixed messages and are off to a bad start, credibility wise. Naivete is a poor excuse for secrecy.
As they say on TV infomercials, “wait, there’s more!” I’m starting a community group —Citizens Against Chicanery and Artfulness — CACA. Wanna join?
Bill can be reached at email@example.com.