A BAD CASE OF BEDLAM

In 2004, then-Director of Planning and Community Devel-opment Suzanne Frick said that the state-mandated revision of the General Plan was our Constitution, as it would determine our destiny for the next 20 years.

It was already four years behind schedule, and Frick’s statement sounded more like a threat than a promise.

Soon after her pronouncement, she decamped for Long Beach. Her successor, Eileen Fogerty, was demonstrably more interested in listening to and incorporating residents’ views in the revisions than Frick was, but she warned residents that there would have to be “trade-offs” and “deal-making,” and that “we will not succeed if we have winners and losers.”

City Staff initially dubbed the revisions of the land use and circulation elements “Shape the Future 2025” and “Motion by the Ocean,” but, as years passed and little happened, its moniker was reduced to LUCE (land use and circulation element), which didn’t bode well.Indeed, there was less and less motion by the ocean and more commotion every year..

At the initial workshops, meetings, hearings, in staff reports, in the two voluminous reports on the revision, and the extended rounds of “placemaking” what seemed to be critical points to residents were ignored by staff. Our alleged public servants had become entrepreneurs.

Santa Monica is not a theory or a concept, It’s not silly putty that can be endlessly pushed, pulled, poked and prodded, Nor is it an old suburb in need of a new look, a resort in need of a new identity, a “regional commercial hub” in need of more bling and bang, a “product” in need of branding or a money mill that isn’t making money.

In fact, Santa Monica was made generations ago, and made with care and art, and, as novelist William Faulkner said, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”

Santa Monica is a masterpiece of a place — legendary, iconic, a 140 -year old beach town on the storied Southern California coast, made by a rich and various mix of people, ranging from the Latinos who were given a land grant by the Spanish government to Shirley Temple who was the most popu-
lar star in America when she was 10 years old to Raymond Chandler, who immortalized it as Bay City, a very corrupt town.

Though it was very small – eight square miles, it was the second most densely populated town in Southern California. In the rest of the state, there are, on average, 217 people per square mile. Here, in Santa Monica, there are more than 10,000 people per square mile. And the daily transient population is 300,000.

Santa Monica Place, the Third Street Promenade, the massive luxe office district, the “luxury hotels” on Ocean Avenue and the beach, the big, bulky new buildings on Main Street, the RAND behemoth, the bullies of apartment buildings on Sixth and Seventh Streets, the oversized “luxury condos” that have replaced more modest apartment buildings all over town, the gargantuan new buildings at St. John’s and Santa Monica-UCLA hospitals and some of the ugliest buildings in California (the City’s new parking structures) have all been piled on and jammed into the townscape in less than three decades.

The City and major business interests have inflated the town, while bruising its unique character, compromised its aesthetic integrity, thrown it out of balance and trigger-
ed virtually all the problems that now plague residents, but they have not subdued it, or its residents.

The lessons of thoughtless growth have been lost on City officials who continue to lobby for more growth, but residents’ devotion is deep and abiding, and Armen Melkonians’ Residocracy has given them the means to pre-
vail.

This gloriously idiosyncratic beach town was hijacked by City Hall because, it wanted to increase its revenue. And it has. For their part, residents got more traffic, more congestion and commotion, a 10 percent utility tax, more and higher fees, while losing many of their favorite local shops, stores, restaurants and services, and suffered a general dilution of their way of life.

The City shamelessly talks the sustainable city line, but everything in it seems to be expendable and disposable – except its salaries, which are more generous than any in the state.

Residents and their interests are allegedly represented in City Hall by the seven-member City Council. But for many years, four of the seven took campaign contributions from developers abandoned the of, by and for the people princi-
ple, and approved one dubious project after another.

The LUCE was approved five years ago, Its two major appli-cations are a new downtown specific plan, which has been on hold for a couple of years, and the zoning code revi-
sion, which was finally approved by the Planning Commiss-
ion several weeks ago. Among other things, the revisions are meant to determine what, if any, new developments are needed, what they should be and where they should go. Thirty-some proposals are in the pipeline now, major prop-
osals. The Planning Commission’s final revision reflects few of the residents’ objections, and City planners cont-
inue to court developers.

Santa Monica has changed more in the last 25 years than in the preceding 50 years – and not in a good way, but those changes pale when compared to the changes in size, scale, mass, density, location and function that are contained in the proposed zoning code revision.

The revisions will determine whether we preserve, refine and artfully elaborate on the beach town character that residents cherish, preserve what is here and worthy and remove what is unworthy, or unmake this gloriously idio-
syncratic town by compounding the mistakes that have been made in the last two decades.

What we have at the moment is a bad case of bedlam. But we also have a majority of four, which is quite capable of saying NO.

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