I recently took a midnight stroll to the foot of Wilshire Boulevard and looked out from the Palisades Park bluffs at the always inspiring Pacific Ocean. To many of us who live here, the ocean is our front yard and the most beautiful sight in the world. Such sights are the reasons we have a California Coastal Commission, and the reason I’m writing.

Let me sum it up in one sentence: “The California Coastal Commission should vote to delay the Miramar makeover for four reasons: The size and questionable design of the project, conflicts of interest, it’s controversial approval  and  the geological risks the project poses to the fragile bluffs in Palisades Park just 50 paces away across the street.”

The Project Itself

Miramar owner Michael Dell is one of the world’s richest men, but claims he needs to pay for his super-sized hotel by packing 60 luxury condos worth millions apiece into a giant cruise ship shaped like a boomerang above the bluffs. Every other luxury hotel in the city has somehow managed to profit without such condos. Also, moving the main entrance off Wilshire and onto Ocean, Second and California Avenues will clog up the city’s ONLY direct route to and from PCH via the California Incline. It will also create a new quagmire of downtown traffic on Wilshire because hotel visitors will have to turn right onto Second before they turn left into the hotel’s new entrance against opposing traffic. This unnecessary re-engineering will also funnel record numbers of vehicles directly into Santa Monica’s densest and most-populous neighborhood. The underground parking scheme is another anomaly. Spaces will somehow be parceled out between condo owners, hotel guests, employees and others, but silly you if you think any of the hotel’s expansive food, maid or service staff will ever be allowed a spot. All that underground parking (and three solid years of constant construction) will also encroach on and turn the city’s most-treasured (and landmarked) Moreton Fig tree into the world’s-biggest potted plant, while challenging its very existence. All for a bare-minimum amount of affordable housing built as cheaply as possible across the street. 

Conflicts of Interest

The city’s longest-serving Council member and former mayor decided (rightly so) to recuse herself from voting on the project, because it was uncovered that her husband had been working for Michael Dell for several years, including during the project’s most formable stages. Yet this obvious conflict of interest was never disclosed publicly until just before the vote. Such a lack of local government transparency should never have happened. But it did. Also, many of the lawyers working on the project  as well as their family members, made substantial donations to two Council members and the city’s most-powerful (and development-friendly) PAC.  We all know some of these same cheerleaders are the ones writing letters and emails of support for the project to the Coastal Commission and paying others to do so as well. If you listen in Thursday as the Commission debates the project and I do hope you will, you will also hear more people being paid to sing its praises.

Please believe residents instead. No one pays us. We won’t make money off this project. We just love our city.

The Vote and the Will of the People

The Santa Monica City Council approved the Miramar redesign two weeks before Election Day in 2020 by a vote of 4-2, with one recusal. Had the vote happened AFTER the election as so many residents had suggested, the project most likely would have never been approved. On that Election Day two weeks later, three of the four Council members who voted for the project LOST. Voters soundly replaced them with a “change” slate of three responsible growth candidates. The fourth vote in favor was cast by a Council member who had just been APPOINTED a few months before.

Geologic Risks

Please don’t take chances with the fragile bluffs just across the street from the current hotel. Imagine what kind of pounding three or four years of rumbling trucks, heavy cranes, tons of dirt and materials and constant construction will have on the fragile Palisades Bluffs. This risk was NEVER adequately addressed in the EIR for the project. Coastal Commissioners know all too well about the fragility of such bluffs up and down our coast. I remember moving here 25 years ago when the city had to close almost all of Palisades Park to replace the wall along the edge because the cliffs below much of the old one had eroded away. Our fragile bluffs demand and deserve the scrutiny only a through geologic examination ordered by the Commission can provide. To neglect to do so is counter to everything the Coastal Commission stands for.  

At that very foot of Wilshire I spoke of earlier, just five or so steps from the edge of the bluffs, stands a statue of Saint Monica, our city’s namesake. Out-of-towners probably don’t know she stands on a grass pedestal shaped like a heart. Others may not be aware of the Catholic belief that she sheds a tear for her errant son. That edge of the bluffs where she stands is closer to Ocean Avenue than at any other point in Palisades Park. It’s just a few feet away. Go there and see for yourself. The huge Miramar Mega-Hotel-Condo/Retail Complex would be just 50 paces away.

For this reason and others above, the Miramar makeover should never have been approved by the City Council. Its construction jeopardizes the bluffs that support one of the most beautiful coastal parks in the world. The project should not be approved by the California Coastal Commission as it stands.

Please, Coastal Commission. Delay this project. Examine the geology. The EIR neglected to do so adequately, as you will discover. Please protect our fragile bluffs. Protect our part of the coast. Protect our landmarked Park overlooking the Pacific. And protect the statue of Saint Monica that stands so perilously close to the edge of those bluffs. What a tragedy it would be to give her more reasons to cry should something preventable happen to the very ground she stands on… Thank You.

John C. Smith, Former Chair and current Santa Monica Recreation and Parks Commissioner