Even after taking out his collar pin and loosening his silk tie, Sherman Whitmore looks out of place sitting under a poster of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.
But he's been to the stark offices of the Pico Neighborhood Association before. The dapper real-estate developer and the neighborhood group have entered into a partnership of sorts - a kind of partnership being talked about more and more around the country.
Although the city of Santa Monica makes tough demands on developers, Mr. Whitmore took the initiative. Before taking his plans to build a half-million-square-foot office project to the Santa Monica city government, he hammered out an agreement with the Pico Neighborhood Association over what the local residents will get if the project is built.
What an agreement like this signals is a more cooperative climate where businesspeople, neighborhoods, and cities are looking hard for their common interests. Public-private partnerships grow
The number of public-private partnership deals has ''grown exponentially'' over the past couple of years, asserts James K. Coyne, special assistant to the President for private-sector initiatives. He notes as a kind of measure that in the past year and a half, 42 of the 50 states have opened governor's offices to promote this kind of partnership.
Mr. Whitmore has agreed to hand Santa Monica cash equal to 5 percent of the project's $43 million cost and a 2 percent partnership in the completed project - all for the benefit of the local neighborhood - if the city approves the deal. And the new offices will be designed to attract employers who would provide the kinds of jobs that would draw on the neighborhood for workers.
In turn, Whitmore gets the support of the powerful neighborhood association, which gives him a better shot at getting the zoning changes he needs for the project.
How much such cooperation can accomplish is still debated. But innovative and sophisticated civic-private partnerships are becoming increasingly popular among civic leaders.
Business wants a stable work force, a well-planned environment, and to cut the cost of getting through government bureaucracy and local opposition. Cities and neighborhoods want business for the sake of their economic health.
''It's important to keep in mind that a serious partnership is a calculated business deal,'' says Andrew Mott, vice-president of the Center for Community Change, a national organization of neighborhood groups. The partnership rests, he adds, not on altruism but ''common self-interest.''
Whitmore agrees. ''I wouldn't have done it unless I thought it was a viable business opportunity,'' he says.
It's often the toughest neighborhood groups, notes Mr. Mott, that forge the best partnerships for both parties.
The prevailing partnership spirit marks a change in public attitudes.
''When I first got into politics about 20 years ago,'' says William S. Taupier, who now negotiates plant and office sites between industry and city governments, ''you almost had to be antibusiness.'' Need for hard-headed negotiations
Mr. Taupier, a former mayor of Holyoke, Mass., recalls a typical complaint at a City Council meeting that a builder wanted a zoning change ''just so he can make money.''
''Excuse me,'' Taupier said, ''but why else should he want a zoning change?''
In other words, negotiators on both sides of the table need to be hard-headed and realistic. ''Politicians need to think like businessmen; businessmen need to think like politicians.''
Politicians, warns Taupier, are too eager as negotiators with business these days. ''Politicians go with the trends, and the trend now is economic development.''
He usually sits on the business side of the table, and he says industry often plays one city against another for new plant or office sites, even though the company involved has decided from the start where it will locate.
''I've done it myself hundreds of times,'' he says, ''go to a city with my decision already made and plans virtually complete, and let a couple of them compete against each other.''
The best thing a city can do to attract business, explains Taupier, is to have locations ready - with the right zoning, utility service, streets, and traffic conditions.
''I don't think most cities are going to become high-tech research centers,'' Taupier says. ''If I was a mayor, I'd be worried about getting jobs for entry-level people.''