Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell is one of America’s most progressive and thoughtful political leaders. He’s a Democrat, of course. There are no thoughtful, much less progressive Republican leaders at the moment.
Rendell believes that in order to recover from its current malaise, America must focus on the “big things.” By “big” he doesn’t mean large or costly or showy, he means important, fundamental, vital things.
In recent years, Santa Monica has spent much too much money, attention and energy on large, showy stuff, trimmings, and far too little money, time and energy on those things that are vital to this community.
Here and now, the most vital need is affordable housing. The number of affordable apartments has dropped dramatically in the wake of the passage of Costa Hawkins and the “luxury condo” boom.
Currently, the City’s Community Corp. and the Related Companies are collaborating on “The Village,” a mega-housing project that’s located in the Civic Center. It will contain 160 “affordable” apartments and 158 “luxury condominiums.”
Why is the City collaborating on condos rather than including more affordable apartments? Probably because that’s where the money is for the commercial developers. But the City exists to serve Santa Monica residents, not to make more money for Related, which is one of the largest and richest real estate companies in America, and probably could get by without a
159-year lease on City land.
In the last decade or so, developers have demolished far too many apartment buildings to make way for luxury condos, though the need for them has never been established. Several years ago, the City Council overturned the designation of both a garden apartment complex in Ocean Park and former mayor Clo Hoover’s large apartment building on Ocean Avenue as landmarks, permitting developers to evict their inhabitants, demolish the landmarks, and replace them with outsized, graceless condos.
One of the garden apartment residents now lives in San Pedro, as she couldn’t find an affordable apartment in Santa Monica. The commute, which she does several times a week, is a nightmare,
As the number of affordable apartments has fallen, the number of chronically underpaid workers in the town’s burgeoning “hospitality industry” has grown, but the City Council has refused to require that a true living wage for hourly employees be included in hotel development agreements, fearing that the hotels will reject the agreements, and abandon Santa Monica.
Convention and Visitors Bureau and Chamber of Commerce officials oppose a real living wage, but an industry that can only make a profit by exploiting its most vulnerable workers shouldn’t be in business in Santa Monica. Or anyplace else.
Rendell would probably agree with us that the single most urgent problem in Santa Monica right now is the perilous situation of the residents of the Village Trailer Park. It is utterly remarkable, affordable housing at its simplest. Its residents have lived there for years, most them are old and some are in fragile health, but they are fighters and eloquent and very angry.
The trailer park is a landmark (worthy, but undesignated), a fragment of another time. Over the years, it has become quite lush,with 107 trees, 27 different species, an oasis for birds and people in a hectic precinct. But a developer has proposed demolishing it to make room for another oversized unneeded mixed-use complex, and the City has neglected to take any of the steps it could to preserve the homes of the residents and the park itself.
It’s in the eastern reaches of Santa Monica, On the western edge,
overlooking the ocean, other residents are engaged in another struggle. The owner of the old Miramar Hotel is Michael Dell, whose $15 billion fortune makes him the 19th richest person in the world. His minions have cranked out a “revitalization” plan that would demolish nearly all of the modest, existing buildings and replace them with a 560,000 square foot complex. Twice the size of the existing hotel, and several stories taller. it would not only cut off its neighbors’ ties to the ocean, it would shatter the serene neighborhood, and jam the surrounding streets with traffic..
As many people have said, the behemoth belongs in Miami, or Las Vegas, not this casual, low-key beach town. Its neighbors and hundreds of other residents are fighting it, but the City is on the side of the billionaire, not the residents.
The City is building a $47 million, six-acre park in the northwest
corner of the Civic Center to serve as a “gateway” to the Pier and the ocean. The notion of a small, overcooked park serving as a gateway to the largest body of water on the planet is as ludicrous as the notion that it needs a gateway.
There are too few parks in the residential neighborhoods, and the
town and its residents, especially its children, would be better-served by several such parks rather than a $47 million six-acre park across the street from the ocean designed by a “world-class” landscape architect.
Affordable housing, preservation of a lovely old trailer park and a portion of the ocean front in this idiosyncratic old beach town, a true living wage, a few new neighborhood parks – truly big things.