In a repeat of the Plummer Park redesign imbroglio, the powers that be at City Hall have apparently already decided that West Hollywood will have a new “Civic Building” at San Vicente and Santa Monica Boulevard. Construction is projected to begin in 2014.
Now if you have never heard of this proposal, you are not alone. The Public Facilities Commission was not consulted on the proposal. Indeed it was news to some of our City Council members. So who gave direction to the City Finance Department to include nearly a quarter of a million dollars in the 2012-2014 budget for feasibility studies for a civic building that “includes sheriff’s station and city hall” without any public discussion as to why a new City Hall is even necessary?
You can check out the proposed City Budget for 2012 to 2014 at the City website under the Department of Finance and Technology under Financial Reports & Budgets or by clicking here. Look under Capital Projects on page 246 (page 277 if you’re using the PDF page counter).
The City is budgeting nearly a quarter million for consultants for a feasibility study for the Boystown site without even asking the community as to where we might want to see a new City Hall. Indeed, no one has even stated a case as to why a new City Hall is even a priority. Once the City Council has approved the money for feasibility studies the bureaucratic momentum will be to build on this site. This is clearly a case of putting the cart before the horse.
The current number of City employees has exceeded the capacity of our existing City Hall on Santa Monica and Sweetzer. But before we start building a bigger City Hall to accommodate our management-heavy staff, we may want to ask if maintaining this level of employees is even sustainable. We have more people managing than doing at City Hall. City Hall has probably become West Hollywood’s largest employer.
Where is the public input?
Once again, the folks at City Hall appear to have already made a major decision about the future of the City without consulting the people who live here.
In a City that had more respect for public input or appreciated the need for civic discourse, we would have had an open process that would have started by asking if a new City Hall was necessarily a new priority.
If the City had a consensus that we needed a City Hall, we could then have an inclusive public debate on the venue for the new civic center.
But much like the genesis of the Plummer Park redesign process; decisions are made before the public has even been consulted. The proposal contained in the new budget has the City breaking ground on a new civic center in late 2014, just two short years away. Five million dollars is budgeted for construction costs in the years 2014/2016 with the project set for occupancy in 2017.
Don’t ask where City staff pulled the number of five million for construction costs. The Plummer Park Community Center that opened over a decade ago cost $4 million for design and construction and that was admittedly done on a shoe string.
We know from experience that once the City completes feasibility study for a specific site it will preclude discussion of any alternative sites. Once the City has paid the consultants for the Santa Monica/San Vicente site, the City will argue that we cannot simply waste those funds by ignoring the consultant’s recommendations.
The decision as to where City Hall should be located is of huge importance to the economic vitality of West Hollywood. When we relocated City Hall from its original Boystown site where Trader Joes is now located, it brought a huge economic boost to the intersection of Santa Monica and Sweetzer. All those City Council members and 200 plus city staffers, several with city credit cards, pumped plenty of cash into the area and it spurned a host of new restaurants and businesses.
Removing City Hall will impact Basix, Hamburger Mary’s and other restaurants. Currently City Hall is within walking distance for hundreds of residents. Moving it to Santa Monica and San Vicente will make it walkable to fewer residents, meaning more of us will have to drive to City Hall. Perhaps the proposed new civic center is just a plan to help fill our under-utilized parking deck in West Hollywood Park.
It does seem a bit strange to be discussing a new civic center when the City has just committed millions to build a hugely expensive automated parking garage at our current City Hall.
How about a Movie Town Plaza location?
The folks on the eastside of West Hollywood may feel that a new City Hall would be a boon to their neighborhoods. We have that huge Movie Town Plaza site where Casden was approved to build a ten-story mixed-use monstrosity. Now that Casden’s funding has fallen through, maybe this would be a great new site for a large civic center plaza.
The City could build a performing arts center there instead of in Plummer Park which could double for a City Council Chambers. That would be a huge improvement for the current acoustically horrific Council Chambers in the new West Hollywood Library building. We could save Plummer Park and still have a monument to City Council egos.
The idea of having our Council members, four of whom live west of La Cienega, commuting to the eastside during rush hour would help them understand why so many of us have concerns about the traffic impacts of over development along Santa Monica Boulevard.
Personally I am a skeptic about moving City Hall to Boystown. It is already a heavily trafficked area and when the Pacific Design Center’s Red Building becomes occupied we are looking at another 2,500 commuter trips a day at that intersection. That is not including the six-story Palm restaurant project that will soon be breaking ground or the Melrose Triangle project. Why should all of Santa Monica Boulevard’s new construction be on the west side of town?
Before we spend a dime on feasibility studies, let’s decide if a new City Hall should be one of our near future priorities. If it is, then let’s have a real community debate on where City Hall should be located. A fair discussion, without manipulation by Staff or City Council members, would go a long way toward restoring faith in City government.
If we are going to have a new City Hall, let’s not repeat the defective process that led to the current Plummer Park redesign. But looking at the budget proposal, it looks like City Hall has not learned any lessons from that fiasco. It is time to stop City Hall from making major decisions about our future behind closed doors. West Hollywood was supposed to be a model of municipal democracy. Obviously we have strayed a long way from the original vision of that City on a Hill at the end of the rainbow.
Show up at the June 18th City Council meeting where the budget will be discussed and remind City Council that West Hollywood is supposed to be a democracy.