Developers Threaten Santa Monica Way of Life
by Ty Wapato
The 2010 City Council election is a vivid example of how big money developers distort the truth to impose their wills on the citizens of Santa Monica. The contemptible slate mailers that misrepresented the endorsements of CEPS and the Santa Monica Police Officers Association, while they may seem like yesterday’s news, are a clear demonstration of how low the developers will stoop. The Police Association issued a statement protesting the misuse of their logo on the mailer, but by then the damage was done.
More troubling is the appearance that the candidates benefiting from their treachery were complicit in the deception. In small print the mailers stated that these candidates had paid to be included. Later they denied any connection with the mailers. It was convenient that they did not have to issue their denials until after the election.
The political axiom is that elections have consequences, and the consequences of this election may well be the loss of our treasured Santa Monica lifestyle. We have started down a slippery slope that will result in Santa Monica becoming the Miami Beach of the West Coast if the citizens do not act quickly to regain their power.
True Santa Monicans that have lived here long enough to cherish the city do not want to demolish the tree lined beauty of San Vicente Boulevard, with its grassy center divide and its collection of garden apartments with generous landscaped setbacks. They do not want to replace a verdant neighborhood that is home to long-time Santa Monicans with skyscraper after skyscraper. Yet that is the tragedy that is in the making. It is happening because the distortions that we saw in the City Council campaign are repeated again and again in developers’ negotiations with the Planning Department. Trammel Crow describes their most recent plans at 301 Ocean Avenue as “a new three and four story, 20-unit condominium complex consisting of three buildings oriented around a central courtyard.” The “central courtyard” is actually little more than a wide walkway between the buildings.
The loss of open space and the increased structural density is clearly seen in the views of the apartment complex at 301 Ocean Avenue and the plans for the complex Trammel Crow wants to build. The 47 affordable family units that have graced the corner since 1952 have been vacant since Trammel Crow evicted the tenants in March 2009. It is not that the existing structure is dilapidated or that is suffers because of poor construction. In fact the building is an example of extremely high grade construction. Architect Robert Jackson stated that it had superior materials and workmanship and incorporated design concepts that were well ahead of its time when it was built in 1952.
Some neighbors have complained that the site has become an eyesore, and although they once favored preserving the building, they now just want something done to restore the beauty of the neighborhood. The complaints are justified because Trammel Crow is not maintaining the appearance of the property. They suspended landscape maintenance while the building was still occupied, allowing the lush foliage in the interior garden and along the front of the site to dry up and perish. When the residents began maintaining the landscaping using their own funds and for fertilizer and other supplies Trammel Crow put locked caps on the water outlets and threatened legal action if the activity was not stopped. After evicting the tenants Trammel Crow boarded the windows with unpainted plywood. At their Planning Commission design review hearing they were asked if they could take the plywood off the windows or at least put it on the inside of the windows to reduce the shocking impact. Of course that would be counterproductive as it would slow the erosion of neighborhood patience and support for preserving the building.
There is considerable sentiment in Santa Monica to preserve the relatively intact collection of garden apartments that line both sides of San Vicente Boulevard east of Ocean Avenue, and 301 Ocean Avenue is recognized as the gateway to that district. Although its address is on Ocean Avenue, more than 75% of the property frontage is on San Vicente Boulevard. Ideas for preserving the garden apartments include designating it as a Historic District or creating a Conservation Overlay District. The Conservation Overlay District is a creation of the Planning Department that found its way into the Monster LUCE plan. It is a prime example of fuzzy thinking. It is presented as a way to preserve a neighborhood without having to preserve the buildings. It neglects the basic fact that the neighborhood consists of people. And those people are in the neighborhood because of the garden apartments.
Garden apartments are built around a central landscaped area. The main entrances into the individual units face into the garden and encourage interaction between the tenants. This stimulates a sense of community that is lacking in most apartment dwellings. San Vicente Boulevard is a collection of these mini-communities whose citizens are now being bound together as a larger community to save their homes from the developer’s wrecking ball.
The next articles will explore how the events at 301 Ocean Avenue will permanently affect the future lifestyle of all citizens of Santa Monica.