Hannah Heineman

Santa Monica’s City Council adopted the update of the Land Use and Circulation Elements (LUCE) of the city’s General Plan in 2010 after a six-year process that included extensive community input.

At a Mid-City Neighbors meeting last week, Armen Melkonians, a civil and environmental engineer and City Council candidate last year, discussed some of the significant problems he found in the LUCE during an intensive analysis of it.

The land use element delineates the distribution of different types of buildings (housing, office, industry, open space, etc.) while the circulation element sets out the location of existing and proposed roads, highways, and other modes of transportation.

This latest LUCE revision is being used to determine the guidelines for the city’s development over the next 20 years.

Melkonians reported that a key flaw in the LUCE was that it “completely ignored (the results) if all the [city] land owners decide to build out to the maximum allowed.”

In his opinion, Environmental Impact Reports (EIR) based on the LUCE are not accurate because its projections are extremely underestimated.

To illustrate his point, Melkonians stated that only two and a half years after the LUCE’s approval, 4,600 residential units have been proposed by developers, but the LUCE estimates that only 5,000 residential units will be built in the next 20 years.

LUCE also estimates that a total of 500,000 square feet of new office space will be built in the next 20 years, but one project, now pending, the Hines project proposed for the former Papermate site, is 494,927 square feet. So, before the new commercial development boom begins, the 20-year goals have already been met.

The real impact of the LUCE is a fifty percent increase in population of Santa Monica in the next 20- 30 years. “That’s what is actually allowed in the LUCE,” stressed Melkonians. He also noted that both the Bergamot Specific Plan and the Downtown Specific Plan were “left out of the LUCE.”

The only thing according to Melkonians that the community can do now about these LUCE problems is to bring political pressure on the city because legally the LUCE is set. “The rights have been given to the land owners. They can build to the maximum they are allowed to build.”

One Mid-City member reacted to Melkonians’ assessment by saying this “makes me furious.” Other members were concerned about how to get renters who live in the city involved with trying to curtail development.

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