The Santa Monica Planning Commission is recommending that the Santa Monica City Council not negotiate with Santa Monica Place owners Macerich Company, which wants to raze the mall.

The Santa Monica City Council is scheduled to hear Macerich plans for a massive facelift of the downtown mall and extension of Third Street Promenade Tuesday, January 25th.

“The present proposal is grossly over-scaled,” planning commissioner Arlene Hopkins said at a commission meeting Wednesday, January 5th.

“Any acceptable proposal, even if under a development agreement, must be consistent with the (Santa Monica) General Plan,” Hopkins said.

Macerich wants to enter into a development agreement because the company’s current plans do not conform to existing city development standards.

A development agreement is a process in which developers and City Council members negotiate zoning ordinance changes in exchange for community benefits such as park space and hiring local residents for construction jobs.

“Macerich corporate offices are in Santa Monica and many of us live here,” said Randy Brant, Macerich senior vice president for development and leasing.

“We think we have a pretty good understanding of what Santa Monica is all about,” Brant said.

Macerich, which owns 60 other malls throughout the U.S., wants to redevelop Santa Monica Place by:

n razing the three-level indoor mall and replacing it with a two-story outdoor shopping center;

n extending south the Third Street Promenade, which would move outdoor shopping closer to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium;

n building three 21-story residential towers, which would include 300 condominiums and 150 apartments;

n planting six acres of park space, half of which would be for tower residents and the other half for the public; and

n building four levels of underground parking, which would feature a high-technology parking system that directs drivers to open parking spaces.

“The Macerich plan for redevelopment of Santa Monica Place is the most arrogant insult to the sensibilities of the residents of this city,” said resident Ellen Brennan.

“This is not a development agreement to be negotiated. It is a development agreement to be killed,” Brennan said.

“I know we have incited a lot of emotion but in our opinion, taller and thinner buildings are more attractive than shorter and squatty buildings,” Brant said, of the towers that have stirred strong opposition from residents.

HEIGHT ISSUE — Macerich made its presentation to the Planning Commission with PowerPoint computer software.

Commissioners said they would have preferred to see a more formal presentation with blueprints, plastic models and detailed plans on paper.

“I cannot see that this process is anything other than upside down, backwards or something,” said commission chair Barbara Brown.

“I don’t know how anybody involved with this negotiation can look people in the eye when we try to explain what will happen four steps down the road,” Brown said.

Brant did not discuss the three towers with the commission as he had done previously at a public meeting with the Bayside District Corporation, a nonprofit agency authorized by the city to manage the downtown area.

“I don’t want to get into the height issue,” Brant told the Planning Commission. “We have all seen the height, but there is some height we need to facilitate to support the 450 units of housing.”

“The revenue generated by the residential units is an important economic engine for the rest of this project,” Brant said.

RECOMMENDATIONS — The Planning Commission, an advisory board to the City Council, recommends a hold on the development agreement until the city completes its General Plan update.

Last updated in 1984, the General Plan is a policy document that establishes a 20-year vision for the city by setting development guidelines for future land use, zoning and traffic.

City staff is currently gathering information and public input for a General Plan update project called “Shape the Future 2025.”

After receiving input from all stakeholders in the city, the City Council will make recommendations on draft plans before approving a final General Plan.

The final 2025 General Plan is expected to be approved by 2008.

If the City Council moves forward with a Macerich development agreement, the Planning Commission recommends tower heights be limited to six stories and 84 feet.

“I realize that Macerich wants to capitalize on their investment, but to have even proposed a 21-story tower is so out of the character of downtown,” said resident Jacob Samuels.

“Right now, just saying no is the right answer,” said Patricia Hoffman, former City Council candidate.

“Later on, Macerich can come back with a more community-friendly project that you like better,” Hoffman told the Planning Commission.

SANTA MONICA PLACE — The commission also recommends that Macerich should follow existing development standards in the current General Plan if the City Council enters into a development agreement.

Macerich, in its development agreement application, requested that redevelopment comply with current Civic Center Specific Plan standards.

The City Council in 2001 approved inclusion of Santa Monica Place into the Civic Center Plan.

Brant said a major purpose of redevelopment is to unify Third Street Promenade with the Civic Center Auditorium and Santa Monica Pier.

Commissioners said that already established General Plan standards should be used.

Development standards for the Civic Center area are not solidly established because those standards are currently being updated.

Suzanne Frick, director of the City Planning Department, said an update to the Civic Center Specific Plan and the plan’s environmental impact report are at the moment in draft phase.

“We have a historic opportunity to bring together all the areas of the downtown,” said Michael Feinstein, former City Council member.

“I’m here to encourage the entire community not to fumble this opportunity because of fear and paranoia,” Feinstein said.

Brant said Macerich has made several failed attempts to stop the Santa Monica Place downward trend of losing businesses and shoppers in recent years.

The 570,000-square-foot mall was built in 1980, based on designs by renowned architect and Santa Monica resident Frank Gehry.

Located at the intersection of Fourth Street and Broadway at the south end of the Third Street Promenade, the mall has three levels of sky-lit indoor shopping.

Last renovated in 1990, the mall has 120 retail shops, service stores and eateries, anchored by Robinsons-May and Macy’s department stores.

Macerich believes major redevelopment and the addition of housing is the best solution for Santa Monica Place, Brant said.

“The base case is to first look at opportunities to reformat or refresh the existing Santa Monica Place mall,” Hopkins said.