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Guess what, folks? City Hall bureaucrats are forming yet another “advisory group.” This one is being called the Civic Working Group (CWG) and its purpose will be to provide professional and community input on the renovation, programming and long-term operation of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.

The group will be composed of nine members and three subcommittee members. Five “at large” members “will be people with broad knowledge of Santa Monica,” according to City Hall’s website. City commissions will recommend four more prospective members who currently serve (or have served) on the Arts, Landmarks, Planning, and Recreation and Parks commissions.

The three CWG subcommittee members should possess extensive professional and technical expertise associated with strategic planning, policy and real estate development, fundraising, construction, performing arts production and event management at venues similar to the civic. Applications are due by 5 p.m., Monday, Sept. 16.

I’m not impressed. If Santa Monica’s history with civic commissions, task forces and advisory groups is any indication as to how this latest reincarnation will turn out, you won’t be impressed either.

The Civic Center has had numerous working groups and task forces who were supposed to determine a direction and overall plan for the area over the years. Like most special commissions or task forces, these were loaded with seated council and city commission members, political cronies and special interests. The result was a hodge-podge and an urban planning disaster.

The Civic Center is walled off from the Downtown business district and Third Street Promenade by Interstate 10 and Santa Monica Place. It contains City Hall, the Public Safety Facility, Civic Center Parking Structure, L.A. County Courthouse, the aging Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and its adjacent surface parking lot with enough room for 1,100 cars.

Additional features include the Viceroy Hotel, RAND corporate headquarters, the Village at the Civic Center housing development, the new Tongva Park and Ken Genser Square in front of City Hall. Still to come is a badly-sited Early Childhood Learning Center.

It is a result of planning by agenda and political horse trading. The insiders and politically powerful threw everything into this stew. Now we’re adding more chefs? I guess City Hall leaders have never heard the idiom, “too many cooks spoil the broth.”

A previous consultant’s report disclosed that even with a top entertainment impresario managing the venue and $50 million in upgrades, the civic would still lose $1 million to $2 million, annually.

When Santa Monica College officials decided to build their community theater (now called The Broad Stage) in Mid-City instead of the Civic Center, a huge opportunity to create a performing and visual arts complex and a focus for the entire Civic Center was lost — leaving the Civic Auditorium an obsolete and isolated outpost.

There are no restaurants, pubs, entertainment venues or shopping aside from the Viceroy and adjacent Chez Jay restaurant. At night, the area is deserted and lifeless.

A previous task force recommended replacing the surface parking with a soccer field. Luckily, someone with common sense realized that any entertainment venue was doomed without convenient parking.

A tax increase to pay for redoing the Civic Auditorium has been discussed. Council reviewed an expenditure last Tuesday to pay for polling residents on a possible tax increase ballot measure to raise revenue for upgrading public safety communications equipment, seismic improvements to Fire Station 1, modernizing the City Yards and of course, more affordable housing for non-residents.

With that funding proposal virtually a sure thing on the next ballot and the possibility of another tax increase measure to pay for Civic Auditorium improvements coming after that, where does it all end? (I’m not even including the possibility of school folks coming back for more money.)

Another possibility is developing the land around the auditorium with a hotel, a small exhibition/arts center or another housing project. Housing project? Yep. That would be the perfect nail in the coffin.

If the land adjacent to the auditorium is developed, a fairly large parking facility (most likely subterranean) will have to be added for additional tens of millions of dollars. In the meantime, costs to renovate the out-of-date auditorium itself are going up daily while the now-mothballed building deteriorates. In another year or two, that $50-million estimate could be $60 million and rising.

The CWG will have their work cut out for them. Let’s all hope they do better than the committees and task forces that preceded them.


Brain congestion?


“Too much traffic” is the No. 1 resident complaint. So, someone tell me why last Tuesday Councilmen Terry O’Day, Ted Winterer and Kevin McKeown requested staff to analyze amending municipal parking codes to continue to provide free parking at city meters for cars displaying official “environmentally friendly” decals or plates.

I thought City Hall wanted to discourage driving, not incentivize it by rewarding folks who just happen to drive low- or zero-emission vehicles. Clue to council: these cars add to traffic congestion every bit as much as my neighbor’s gas-guzzling SUV.

The city is heading for debt, tax increases may be required to raise revenues and council is giving away precious parking revenue. Lovely. How is that sustainable?

This is one more example of how some City Hall politicians would rather push their “green” agenda than solve traffic congestion problems. Even worse, O’Day has a major conflict of interest. He’s an executive at eVgo, a firm marketing electrical vehicle charging networks.

Have a great Labor Day and throw one on the barbie for me.



Bill can be reached at

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