Residents May Have Input in Designer Selection Process

Wednesday, 2 Mar 2011, 11:45:00 PM

Parimal M. Rohit

Local residents may potentially have greater say in who designs future developments. Last week, the Santa Monica City Council approved a staff recommendation to continue using “the model in which staff reviews proposals and qualifications” as part of the municipal design consultant selection process.

Under the approved policy direction, the City’s staff will still be able to review proposals and qualifications, as well as conduct interviews and make project recommendations to the council for approval. A key exception was also approved, in which a project’s complexity or priority would “include the option of involving professional jury members, one of whom must be a Santa Monica resident.”

The designer selection process was on the council’s Feb. 22 agenda almost a full year after the issue became a hot topic in light of the New York-based architecture firm James Corner Field Operations recommended the $25 million creation of Palisades Garden Walk and Town Square. Field Operations was chosen to develop the six-acre park located just above Olympic Drive near City Hall, commonly referred to as the City’s “Central Park.” The process used to select Field Operations raised a stir when it was revealed that none of the architect panelists who recommended the project were residents of Santa Monica.

“I was dissatisfied with the way the process worked on Palisades Park. I wasn’t dissatisfied with the person we selected, I was dissatisfied with the way the process worked,” Council member Bobby Shriver said. “None of the people were from Santa Monica, there were no community members. The Architecture Review Board (ARB) or our parks commission didn’t participate in any way.”

Accordingly, Shriver pushed to have someone living within the Santa Monica city limits be involved with the design process of any given major project in the city, especially when it is a development as large as the central park project.

“If we have an enormously important project in the city, we require somebody from the city be involved with the selection process… maybe somebody from the ARB, maybe somebody from the Parks and Recreation Commission,” Shriver stated.

Council member Kevin McKeown added he would like at least one “outside expert” brought into such a project also be a Santa Monica resident.

“I sense the intent here is not to complicate the process … but to be sure there is a Santa Monica resident point of view when these decisions are being made,” McKeown stated, suggesting at least one Santa Monica resident involved anytime a jury or a committee makes a significant decision. McKeown also made a recommendation for projects with outside experts on the committee, that one of those experts be a resident.

Interestingly enough, Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis was concerned such a policy may open the door to arbitrarily placing a resident on committees just for the sake of doing so.

“It feels a little artificial, saying we’re just going to stick this person on the committee because they happen to reside in Santa Monica,” Davis said.

Similarly, staff was concerned whether having to select residents would restrict it from selecting the best possible team each time it initiates the design selection process.

Mayor Richard Bloom thought the debate over design selection process was unnecessary, as he believed there was no reason to make any changes to the system.

“This is my opinion; I think we’re trying to fix a system that isn’t broken. In fact, from my perspective, it’s working really, really well,” Bloom said. “I just think our processes are fine the way they are and I don’t see the need to make any dramatic changes.”

Dramatic change or otherwise, the council still unanimously approved the staff recommendation to maintain the design selection process but to potentially include at least one Santa Monica resident amongst the professional jury members.

Under section 608 of the City’s Charter, development contracts should preserve “public confidence in the integrity and openness of the City contracting process.” Further, the criteria for selecting a professional services contractor is established by section 2.24.073 of the Municipal Code, which directs staff and the City to consider “price, experience, demonstrated competence, capacity, sufficiency of financial resources, reputation, and the ability to provide any future services that may be needed.”

In its presentation to the council, staff presented a survey of the consultant selection process of 25 major cities across the United States, including New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Berkeley, Calif., among others.

According to the staff report prepared by Public Works Director Martin Pastucha, a majority of the cities surveyed “follow a typical selection model in which city staff brings one recommended design consultant to the city council.”

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