After years of planning and construction, Santa Monica Place finally opens today with much anticipation, and rightfully so. The new mall will generate much needed sales tax revenue for City Hall (the old mall reportedly generated roughly $1 million annually and that was when it was struggling), as well as job opportunities for residents and attract more visitors to Downtown businesses that need the foot traffic, particularly those on Second and Fourth streets.

It also enhances Santa Monica’s “living room,” giving residents a new place to relax and soak in the sun thanks to the mall’s new design, which took it from an enclosed, boxy, 1980s relic to a more modern, open-air shopping center that better connects to the Third Street Promenade. Hopefully the new mall, renovated at a cost of $265 million, represents a return to retail dominance in the region.

That said, we are concerned about the retail mix, wondering what happened to the “diversity” Macerich Co. officials talked about during community meetings after the Santa Monica-based company botched a prior attempt at redevelopment, which was going to include three, 21-story residential towers, an office building and underground parking; a plan residents and the City Council shot down.

Macerich admitted that plan was out of step with the community, apologized and embarked on a planning process that gathered input from residents. We applauded them for that. It takes a lot to admit when you are wrong.

As Macerich announced its lineup of retailers, we grew concerned. With stores like Burberry, Barney’s CO-OP, Hugo Boss, Kitson, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co., along with anchor stores Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom, it quickly became clear that you have to have a lot of disposable income to justify shopping at Santa Monica Place.

Will some of our residents be able to afford to shop at these stores, or was the mall built more with tourists and the wealthy in mind to capitalize on this posh, seaside location?

We also have issues with how parking was handled during the construction. It was quite obvious for those who visit Downtown frequently that construction workers with their large trucks were snatching up all available parking spaces in the mall structures, making it difficult for workers and shoppers to find a place to park. City Hall did something about it … three weeks ago, roughly two years after construction started.

It is absurd that City Hall, which claims to represent the people’s interests, failed to force Macerich’s construction crews to park in the Civic Center structure, which sits relatively empty every day. City Hall is always regulating where people can park, but did nothing here.

City Hall could have offered parking at a reduced rate, say $3 a day and forced construction workers to park there. Use a tram to shuttle them to the construction site so they do not have to lug around their tools. Did this happen? No. What a disappointment.

Let’s hope that when construction crews assemble to build the Village housing development and two new parks in the Civic Center, as well as the Exposition Light Rail Line station at Fourth and Broadway, there will be a parking plan in place so that residents, workers and shoppers don’t suffer. We are already battling with construction fatigue and a lack of parking only adds to our frustration with so-called “progress.”

We understand that we need tax dollars to fund social programs and keep our streets safe and clean, but there has to be a balance. The almighty dollar cannot take precedence over quality of life.

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