City Hall’s Whichy Thicket

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.

Residents Ask Council To Obey Law

Honorable Members of the Santa Monica City Council

Re: Proposed Variances for 1012 Second Street, City Council Hearing – September 22, 2009


We, the undersigned concerned residents and voters in Santa Monica, hereby ask that you deny the SEVEN VARIANCES to the residential zoning code and the proposed vested Parcel Map for the property at 1012 Second Street.

These variances would be harmful to adjacent residents and the neighborhood by allowing structures that exceed the height (including allowing a fourth story in an area where only three-story buildings are allowed), setback, and other zoning regulations.

The Text Amendment to the City Charter allowing this type of Variance was the result of an effort to accommodate a similar project. We must not change the laws of the City to accommodate particular projects, nor create an environment where the zoning laws can be arbitrarily changed to suit developers’ needs. We support incentives to maintain historical properties, but ask that they comply with the height restrictions that would apply to any other development.

According to the Landmark Assessment, the existing house is “one of the last intact surviving examples of this architectural style” from the original township of Santa Monica.  To allow the permanent and adverse alteration of the property by approving this plan would be inconsistent with the Historic Preservation Element of the City.

The Landmarks Commission did not formally approve the project prior to the approval by the Planning Commission.  The proposed Project was presented as a “discussion item” to the Landmarks Commission.   Neighborhood residents were not notified nor was the public allowed to review the plan or comment. Furthermore, the plan presented for discussion was markedly different than the one that the Planning Commission approved. (Please see minutes from Landmarks Commission meeting Nov 10, 2008).

The proposed Project does not meet the guidelines for a categorical CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) exemption, and the Planning Commission did not thoroughly review the CEQA guidelines that apply to historic resources.  A Categorical Exemption should not be allowed since the changes to the historical house in this plan will far exceed the Guidelines for exemptions. This plan would create a substantial adverse change in the significance of the historical resource (CEQA Guideline 15300.2f). The City should require that it undergo CEQA review.

The proposed Project will negatively impact the adjacent residents and property owners by encroaching on an already narrow alley, reducing privacy, reduce or completely block sunlight and create “shadowing” effect on adjacent property due to the height and mass of the proposed building and landscaping.

In the past, we have heard Council members campaign in support of  “keeping our city’s character by controlling development and traffic,” and promise to “protect your neighborhood from overdevelopment and traffic” and “be responsive to residents and neighborhoods.” We respectfully ask you, our elected City Council, to keep your commitment and protect our neighborhood from buildings that exceed height and set-back limits, and to carefully review the CEQA requirements that apply to this project.

Please vote to support the appeal in this case and require the developer to submit a revised plan.

City’s Double Standard

It’s rapidly becoming a habit – the City Council’s condemnation of

landmarks. The Landmarks Commission, by any measure the most scrupulous board in Santa Monica,  designates them, and the Council disposes of them.

Two weeks ago, by a 5-2 majority, the Council upheld a developer’s appeal of a Landmarks Commission landmark designation of the historic Sci Arc building.

At Tuesday night’s Council meeting, staff will ask it to deny a residents’ appeal  of a Planning Commission variance that would permit an existing landmark, at 1012 Second Street,  to  be swallowed whole by a larger, taller  condo development.

The   property owner, 1012 Second Street LLC, wants to build a  four-unit

condominium that, according to the staff report, “includes retention and rehabilitation of an existing City Landmark designated Turn-of-the-Century Victorian Cottage and construction of three new condominium units on the rear of the parcel…

“the applicant requested the following seven modifications to development

standards subject to approval of a Variance for projects that retain and preserve designated historic resources: 1) maximum building height; 2) maximum number of stories; 3) building volume above 35 feet in height; 4) maximum parcel coverage above 3rd story; 5) rear yard setback requirement; 6) additional 2’-0” average side yard setback

requirement; and 7) unexcavated side yard requirement. This Variance procedure was specifically established for preservation projects by the City Council in 2006.

“On February 18, 2009, the Planning Commission unanimously approved a Variance.(and other enabling adjustments )…

“On February 27, 2009, three appeals of the Planning Commission’s determination were filed by Scott Taylor, Robert L. Glushon on behalf of Coalition to Protect Zoning on Second Street, and by David Green…

‘…the residence retains a high degree of architectural and historical integrity which strongly reflects and manifests elements of the City’s early development and architectural history.  More specifically, the residence was one of the first cottages built within the original town site of Santa Monica and therefore helped set a precedent for future residential development in the immediate neighborhood during the early Twentieth Century.  The Landmarks Commission also found that the residence embodies unique late Victorian architectural design elements, and is one of the last intact

original township of Santa Monica.”

Given its singularity, its historic   significance, its architectural integrity, it’s obviously an important   landmark. It’s three-dimensional history, a tangible, irreplaceable resource.

The City staff report makes a very  strong case for its preservation, but its

effort to defend and justify the Planning Commission’s variance is as convoluted,  and ludicrous, as the variance itself.

In fact, it is indefensible. No rational person would argue that tucking a Victorian cottage into a new condo complex will not fatally compromise   it.

But there is nothing rational about this dispute. Neighbors are protesting the

precedent the outsized four-story project would set in their residential neighborhood, as well as the degradation and disfigurment of a landmark.

It also breaks a much-bruited promise in the latest land use revison iteration  (LUCE)  that residential  neighborhoods will remain intact and unsullied.

The seemingly interminable staff report proves, again, that the City

has a double standard – one for itself and projects it favors, and amother for the rest of us.

In the course of any year, the City approves any number of new rules and regulations – presumably for our benefit – individually and collectively.

When a resident breaks a rule, the City calls it “a violation.” When the City breaks  the rules, the City calls il’s  “policy-making. ” We call it “wrong.”

Mrs. Shriver: Still On The Job

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20 physically and mentally disabled  residents of an apartment complex

in Monrovia received eviction notices  recently.

“Regulations” restricted residence in the complex to senior citizens, according to the complex manager.

Friday, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger went to Monrovia, and announced that a compromise had been worked out that would permit the disabled tenants to remain in their apartments.

The governor  credited his late mother-in-law, Eunice Kennedy Shriver,  with inspiring him to move quickly. As he  read the Los Angeles Times story about the evictions, he said he imagined her saying  “You’ve read the  story. What are you going to do about it?”

Mrs. Shriver, who died last month, Was this country’s leading advocate for the inclusion of disabled people in every facet of life, as well as literally  remaking the  world to accommodate them. She  founded the  Special Olympics for mentally disabled people nearly half a century ago. Today, the fames  are held in 180 countries.

We only  hope the governor responds as quickly when Mrs. Shriver chides him for closing the regional centers that provided vital services to the disabled.


Whither …Heat

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By Ava Tramer


Clear and hot

Highs: 75-82; Lows: 63-65


Hot and sunny

Highs: 97-101; Lows: 60-63


Very hot and clear

Highs: 103-108; Lows: 73-79

And Santa Monica…

Now that summer is over, it’s time for the REAL hot weather to begin.  Fall in Santa Monica is normally a warm time, with eerie, hot and dry winds rustling their way through our neighborhoods.  So expect this week to be very hot, and very dry (although the dryness shouldn’t really come as a surprise to you, because it really almost never rains in Santa Monica anyways no matter what time of year it is).  If you were upset with June gloom earlier this year, now is the time to embrace truly warm weather.  Go to the beach and bask in the glow of the sun, or frolic in the park with Fido.  If you like sunshine, this is your week, so get outside and enjoy!