Truth and Consequences in Montageville.
Why won’t the City Council share its secret documents with the public?
There has been an ongoing campaign of full-page ads in the Weekly and the Courier sponsored by the proponents and opponents of the Montage hotel project. One hotly contested issue is whether important documents have been kept secret from the public.
Recently, one of the proponents of the project (“Sensible Merchants And Residents Together”, also known as “S.M.A.R.T.”) sponsored a full-page ad with the headline: “The distortions just keep coming…”.
The body of the ad is organized into two columns, one entitled “FICTION” and the other entitled “TRUTH.”
Under “FICTION”, the ad quotes from a letter to business owners from one of the opponents of the project (“The Beverly Hills Residential-Business Alliance”, also known as the “Alliance”).
The quote which S.M.A.R.T. labeled as “FICTION” is as follows: “The City refuses to make public some key economic feasibility studies for this project, as required by the California Public Records Act.” Then, under the heading of “TRUTH”, the ad stated: “Every document generated by the review process , including the economic feasibility study, has been posted for public review on the City website at www.beverlyhills.org.”
A quick trip to the City’s website reveals that there is no document that is labeled as an “economic feasibility study.” However, there is a document entitled “T-Lot Project – Financial Analysis.” Such document presents a series of assumptions, conclusions, and colorful charts. However, there is zero analysis of alternatives to the Montage project and this is more of a promotional document than an analysis.
So who is telling the truth? In this particular instance, I believe that it is clear that the Alliance is telling the truth, and the sponsor of the ad entitled “The distortions just keep coming…” need only look in the mirror to see where the distortions are coming from.
The truth is that before S.M.A.R.T.’s ad appeared, the Alliance had already filed a lawsuit (Los Angeles Superior Court case # BS 087795) to force the City to disclose key documents relating to the Montage project, including documents prepared by the City’s economic consulting firm, Keyser Marston. At this time, there are 63 documents in dispute.
According to the City’s Memorandum of Points and Authorities filed in opposition to the lawsuit, the first 17 documents “are all confidential documents prepared for the City by Keyser Marston Associates, Inc. Keyser Marston is the City’s financial consultant on this project. These documents all contain sensitive project cost estimates and financial pro formas for the City’s negotiators to use in negotiating terms with [the developer] regarding the sharing of the costs of constructing the underground garage structure and the public plaza, as well as revenue projections for the completed project.”
The 18th secret document is a draft traffic and parking impact analysis.
The balance of the secret documents include reports, spreadsheets, charts and tables prepared by other consultants who were paid with taxpayer funds or prepared by City employees.
There are also 30 secret documents that consist largely of e-mails between the City’s legal counsel and the developer’s legal counsel. Amazingly, these 30 documents are in the possession of both the City and the developer – the only people being kept out of this loop are the members of the public who might care about an investment of over $50 million of taxpayer funds and property.
Next column, I will provide my analysis of the City’s legal positions as to why these documents should all remain secret, as well as suggest a solution that I believe is both fair to all concerned and clearly in the public’s best interests.
In the meantime, I want to note an unrelated point that I feel is very important. According to the website for the Montage hotel in Laguna Beach, such hotel has 262 rooms located on 30 acres. See http://www.montagelagunabeach.com/resort_overview/ro_factsheet.html. The Montage hotel in Beverly Hills is expected to include 228 rooms on approximately 2.5 acres. This works out to roughly 9 rooms per acre in Laguna and roughly 91 rooms per acre in Beverly Hills.
As I argued in my last column, this dog is too large for the yard. I believe that the comparison of the Montage hotel in Laguna Beach to the proposed project in Beverly Hills strongly supports this argument.
Finally, I want to mention Virginia Corwin, who passed away on May 19th. Virginia loved our City and worked passionately for many years through her work with the Municipal League to promote the best interests of our residents. I am also mourning the passing of Harvard law school professor Archibald Cox. Professor Cox passed away on May 30, at the age of 92. Professor Cox was best known as the Watergate special prosecutor who was fired for pursuing copies of President Nixon’s secret White House tapes. However, I will always remember him first as an incredible teacher.