City Council Unanimously Approves Most Expensive Municipal Building Ever, Anywhere
$86 million to be financed with lease revenue bonds at 3.25%. 20 year total Cost: $141 million
February 3, 2017
This week – despite widespread resident opposition - City Council voted 7 to 0 to move the City Services Building project forward. They denied David Garden's appeal, which was supported by four neighborhood groups and dozens and dozens of emails citing substantive challenges to what has repeatedly been called "a trophy project."
Residents presented ethical, rational and valid reasons why the project should be sent back to the drawing board. And David Garden made a strong case defending his Appeal, but City Council was clearly not interested, frequently failing to even look at speakers and taking bathroom breaks as residents gave their comments.
During the staff presentation it was announced that since David Garden filed his Appeal of the Planning Commission approval of the project, the staff had decided NOT to pursue an award after all (from the Living Building Challenge). Apparently this move was meant to quell charges from the residents that the plan is more of an expensive "trophy project" than an effort to provide needed office space. Staff said that they do intend however to stay the course and pursue the super sustainability net-zero building standards that the Challenge calls for because making changes at this point would be too costly.
City staff also announced that we need not worry about accounts that the project plans to use composting toilets could pose serious health safety issues as they have in other projects. Their solution is to include a backup system, a redundancy: A standard sewer system will also be built in case the composting toilets fail.
After all, it's only taxpayer money.
Many speakers cited concerns about the cost of the project: $86 million to be financed with lease revenue bonds at 3.25%, bringing the total cost over 20 years of the loan to $141 million. A moment of comic relief came when the City Manager, Rick Cole, said those figures were exaggerated and referred to them as "alternate facts," which prompted some members of the audience to laugh and a couple to shout out "Trumpism!"
(We did learn that the project would have been $18 million cheaper had it been designed to LEED Silver certification standards instead of aiming for the super sustainability standards of the Living Building Challenge. But it's too late to go back, they decided.)
And what about Financial Sustainability?
Another item of interest in the Agenda last night addressed Mid-Year Budget changes and the Five Year Budget Forecast included a request for "Position and Classification Changes" that adds 5 new employees. The item struck many as outrageous given that Santa Monica already has one of the highest staff-to-resident ratios in the state (see chart below from a study conducted by the City of Santa Monica.)
Observed one resident in an email to Council, "Santa Monica employees are already among the highest paid municipal workers in the state. In addition to high salaries, City employees enjoy benefits unavailable to most private sector workers; defined retirement benefits instead of the market risk borne by 401K retirement accounts, free parking in City garages, health care with minimal employee contributions and almost fire proof jobs."
Other changes of equal concern to residents who are voicing opposition to staffing levels and compensation include salary reclassifications that appear to be raises for selected employees.
- Tricia Crane