I have watched about 470 Santa Monica City Council meetings, or virtually every meeting since 1992.
It seems like more.
I am not a masochist. I am a journalist, which, here and now, may be the same thing.
As is noted in Ken Burns’ new PBS series on national parks. President Franklin Roosevelt described his extraordinary public works programs as “building human happiness,” which he believed was the primary task of government.
In ihe midst of the Depression, one of the darkest periods in America history, Roosevelt chose to amplify on the Constitutional promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Both our City Hall and Barnum Hall at Samohi were ‘30s Public Works projects. They are among the most beautiful buildings in California. Barnum Hall has been “building human happiness” for generations.
City Hall, not so much.
In the years I’ve covered City Hall, its happiness quotient has plummeted. Even Council member Kevin McKoewn’s infamous puns have tailed off.
Last Tuesday night’s Council meeting was a perfect demonstration of what’s gone wrong.
Rather than “building human happiness,” City Hall has made an ever-enlarging whichy thicket of rules, regulations and ordinances that dictate what we nay and may not do. They cover everything from curb cuts to hedge heights. The lists of things we nay not do on our beach and in our parks grow longer every year.
Raccoons, possum and coyotes, as “protected urban wildlife,” have the run of the place. Dogs don’t. Neither do residents –. as a group of Second Street residents learned on Tuesday night.
They were appealing a Planning Commission “variance” that would permit a developer to fold a small, rare “turn of the century Victorian cottage” into an outsized condominium complex.
The residents argued that the height and mass of the proposed project would violate the scale and character of the neighborhood, and set a precedent that would inevitably lead to further insults.
Some of the residents, all of whom have lived on the quiet street for years, also noted that the oversized condos (2,000 squire feet, 1,900 square feet,etc) would block or deplete the views. light and breezes that are integral to the smaller existing dwellings.
And, of course, the notion of “preserving” a unique Victorian cottage by making it part of a new condo complex is ludicrous.
The residents’ case was compelling, spot on. Their lives, their street and their neighborhood would be diminished by the addition of a project of dubious value. The residents should have prevailed. But, of course, the debate wasn’t about facts, or truth or reason, or fair play, much less “building human happiness.” It was about power. The City’s power.
The residents were betrayed by everyone. The normally meticulous
Landmarks Commission made the cottage a landmark several years ago. then, inexplicably, it okayed its inclusion in a condo. The Planning Commission gave the architect and developer license to insult a landmark and a neighborhood. The residents’ elected representatives were no help at all. Mayor ken Genser and McKeown both said, as the hearing began, that they were basically helpless as rhe state had the last word. They neglected to say that they had, in effect, invited the state in.
The project architect Howard Laks once enjoyed artfully reviving old buildings, Now he seens to enjoy the game – wining approval of dubious projects.
the City staff’s argument was based in its whichy thicket of rules, regulations and ordinances in which good causes are inevitably lost.
The residents’ appeal was denied
It wasn’t the worst Council needing I’ve ever seen, but it’s in the top ten.
However, it may backfire.
The City planners have said, again and again, that in the land use revision (LUCE), residential neighborhoods are sacred ground, meaning they will remnain intact and will not be sullied, messed with or otherwise altered, demeaned, depleted or debased.
Second Street residents would probably disagree.