When it comes to development in Santa Monica, one has to realize that developers have teams of experts behind them to assure that their projects go through as they want them to. In other words, able to attract good tenants and sized right to insure solid profits.
In addition to the developer itself, its financial partner(s), architect and engineers, there are consultants and land-use attorneys such as Harding, Larmore, Kutcher & Kozall, LLP whose principals are regular fixtures at the planning department and at Planning Commission and City Council meetings.
The team also usually includes a public relations firm or lobbyists. Their job is to communicate the developer’s goals to those in City Hall who can approve the project and convince them — and the public — that the proposed development is in the best interest of the community. This effort involves promoting and financially backing or “buying” politicians who will vote for their client’s projects. It can also include supporting or opposing ballot measures depending on their impact on projects.
One trick is to form a “citizens group” to give the appearance that residents favor a course of action or slate of candidates.
Going back about 12 years, FAIR (Fighting Against Irresponsible Regulation) was a hotel-sponsored, anti-living wage, “neighborhood” group that was widely criticized for distributing false and misleading election mailers. Dirty tricks, dishonesty and outright lies are stock in trade for these secretive, “pop-up” entities.
In 2004 and 2006, Santa Monicans for Sensible Priorities (SMSP) formed and refused to disclose its membership list and financial backers. Turns out it was funded by Edward Thomas Management Company (Casa del Mar and Shutters hotels).
SMSP and Santa Monicans for Change spent hundreds of thousands of dollars backing business and Chamber of Commerce-backed candidates. Both “Sensible Priorities” and “Change” were supported by hospitality and business interests salivating to wrest control of City Hall from Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights.
In 2010, new participants had joined the dirty tricks game and concocted Santa Monicans for Quality Government. SMQG sent out slate mailers that misrepresented City Council candidate endorsements from the police and fire unions and Community for Excellent Public Schools — a school support group. Fred Huebscher, the “president” of SMQG also ran The Political Scientists, a Redondo Beach political consultancy/direct-mail firm.
Backing for the mailers — approximately $72,000 — came from developers with projects pending City Hall approval such as Hines, NMS Properties, Village Trailer Park and Maxser & Company. Additional support came from the Edward Thomas Collection and the Armbruster, Goldsmith and Delvac law firm whose clients include Agensys, Inc and Trammell Crow. SMQG mailers touted pro-development council candidates such as Bob Holbrook, Gleam Davis and Terry O’Day.
The treasurer for SMQG was Kinde Durkee owner of Kinde Durkee and Associates — a Burbank-based political consultancy. Durkee was also treasurer for O’Day’s campaign. Durkee was later caught embezzling from her clients and was sentenced to jail.
In 2012, Santa Monicans United for a Responsible Future (SMURF) was financed by NMS Properties, Century West Partners LLC, Ideal Properties LLC and Roberts Business Park. All were developers doing business with City Hall.
One name that consistently pops up is that of local consultant/lobbyist Kim Karie who worked on both O’Day’s and Mayor Pam O’Connor’s campaigns. Karie is a major “behind the scenes” player and may be one of the most powerful women in Santa Monica. She was a facilitator for SMQG. Her deep pocketed clients have generously contributed to many council candidates including Holbrook, O’Connor, O’Day and Davis.
Karie works behind the scenes and has a long, association with developer-backed political action committees that have fooled voters and misrepresented the facts. With Holbrook and O’Connor’s seats up for grabs, don’t expect things to change this year.
The Lionstone Group, another Houston, Texas mega-developer, is requesting a development agreement to redevelop the Bergamot Art Complex on Olympic Boulevard, directly across from the site of the controversial Bergamot Transit Village.
Here’s what Lionstone’s proposal said about one of its team members: “The Karie Group is a consulting firm specializing in governmental and public relations. President Kim Karie and Vice President Cheryl Richardson have more than 20 years experience each in their various specialized fields. The Karie Group enjoys a successful record in obtaining project approval and developing specific broad based community relations programs.”
“Our (Karie’s) client list is diverse — some past and current companies include The Edward Thomas Collection, Dimensional Fund, Equity Office Properties/Blackstone, Tishman Speyer, Hines Interest, Cushman Wakefield, The RAND Corporation, Saint John’s Hospital and Health Center, Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, St. Monica Catholic Community, Shangri-la Hotel, The Macerich Company, Trammell Crow/CBRE, The Art Institute of California, Pacific Park, The Welk Family Trust, OTO Development, MSD Capital/Fairmont Miramar Hotel, Bergamot Station and many others.
“The Karie Group has the expertise and ability to move forward quickly in identifying and understanding challenges … When issues are identified we are able to creatively advance into the strategic planning and implementation phases. We pride ourselves in our ability to follow a project from inception to completion …”
Over the years, I’ve asked most of our City Hall politicians about their cozy relationship with Karie, her influence and methods. Most of the time I got “I don’t know …” or “I can’t really say …” as an answer even from slow-growth council members who have been targeted by Karie’s clients.
Maybe it’s time for City Hall to register lobbyists so everyone knows who they are and what they’re up to.
Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail