What Took Them So Long?

In what now seems a lifetime ago, in May, 2005, at a joint meeting, the Santa Monica City Council and Planning Commission approved, in concept, the 12 “emerging themes” that the planners and their cadre of consultants had pulled out of the initial round of surveys, questionnaires and workshops on the State-mandated revision of the land use and circulation elements of the General Plan.

The 12 themes were:
1) A unique city with a strong
sense of community.
2) A city rich in amenities,
in walking distance to shops and
services from neighborhoods.
3) A diverse and inclusive city.
4) A community built at an
appropriate town-scale.
5) A city of strong neighbor-
hoods, protected from
commercial and industrial uses.
6) A pedestrian and
bicycle-friendly place.
7) A city rich in its array of
transit offerings.
8) A city where traffic and
parking work.
9) A city of balanced growth.
10) A city with attractive
boulevards.
11) A safe and secure
community.
12) An environmentally
sustainable place.

The full text of the themes stressed over and over again the need to preserve the small town, its small scale, its history, its unique character and its strong sense of place.

During the public hearing that followed, Kathy Dodson, then-CEO of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, said that the “emerging themes seem to ignore the economy and its effect on Santa Monica…[such as] City revenue from business-related taxes, job creation for residents and the diversity and richness of the business community.”

Land use attorney Kevin Kozal agreed, and censured City staff for not talking to “such stakeholders as “major employers, health care providers such as St. John’s Hospital and the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center, and education leaders from Santa Monica College (SMC) and the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.”

Bayside District Corporation Board member John Warfel said the themes lacked “a regional context,”

It will not surprise anyone who’s been paying attention that the planners and consultants’ “Strategic Framework” for the revision faithfully reflects the special interests of the “ business community,” while giving not much more than a smile and a wink to the actual community of residents, After all, Santa Monica, Inc. with its shiny new half-billion-dollar budget is a very big business.

The only surprise is that it took three years to do it.

Do Coyotes Know Something We Don’t Know?

George Wolfberg, President of the Santa Monica Canyon Civic Association, has received a number of reports of coyote sightings and pets being attacked since the initial sighting that we reported several weeks ago.

In response, he has issued a “Coyote Alert” from the LA Department of Animal Services.

COYOTE (CANIS LATRANS)

The California Department of Fish and Game surveys an estimated population range of 250,000 to 750,000 coyotes throughout California. The coyote weighs an average of 18 to 40 lbs. They can run at speeds of 25 mph and sprint up to 40 mph. They mate January through March with pups being born in April through June. They average about four to eight young. Urban coyotes may often die early as a result of being hit by cars, or become afflicted with disease and parasites, such as distemper and mange.

Although coyotes may be seen in a family group which may contain four or more, it is the urban coyote that is often seen traveling alone or in pairs. The coyote is a very clever indigenous predator that has conformed to living in close proximity to humans. They are often seen in residential areas around vacant lots, hillsides, parks, city streets, landscaped areas and abandoned properties. Coyotes will travel via use of horse trails, fire roads, aqueducts, flood control channels, freeways, erosion gutters, city streets and sidewalks. Coyotes find water from a variety of sources throughout the City. The coyotes diet consists primarily of rodents, small mammals and insects. When hunting in a pack they will go for larger prey such as deer. Coyotes are also scavengers and will eat fruit, vegetable matter and trash. They are opportunistic as well and will not hesitate to kill cats, small dogs, poultry, sheep and goats when given the chance.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

FENCES
Coyotes are capable of scaling or jumping fences upwards of 5 1/2 feet in height. They can be deterred by increasing the fence height to at least 6 feet and adding an angle at the top facing outward at 45 degrees and 16 inches wide. (For fences over 6 feet check local fence height laws, a variance may be required.) Bury the bottom of the fence at least 12 to 18 inches underground and line the trench with rock to prevent the coyote from digging underneath. An apron underground at the base extending an additional 18 to 24 inches out from the fence should be added as well.

DO’S and DON’T’S

* Keep your pets indoors or secured in an outdoor kennel. Environmental factors can affect the time a coyote may appear. Coyotes are active during daylight hours also.
* Walk your dog on a leash at all times. If your yard does not have a fence, use a leash while on your property to keep your pet close to you.
* You may carry something with you for protection such as an air horn, whistle, walking stick or cane.
* Confine small animals and birds that you cannot keep indoors to covered enclosures constructed of a heavy gauge wire mesh. Coyotes can break through chicken wire.
* Put all trash bags inside the trash cans and keep all outdoor trash can lids securely fastened to the containers. Place trash bins inside sheds, garages or other enclosed structures.
* Pick fruit from trees as soon as it ripens and pick up all fallen fruit. Cut low hanging branches to avoid the coyote feeding from trees. Trim ground-level shrubbery.
* Vegetable gardens should be protected with heavy duty garden fences or enclosed by a greenhouse . Check with your local plant nursery to see what deterrent products are available. If you have access to the Internet, you may find some items on-line.
* Keep your property well lit at night.
* Close off crawl spaces under porches, decks and sheds. Coyotes use such areas for resting and raising young.

Do not feed wild animals. It is illegal to feed predatory wildlife in the City of Los Angeles. (L.A.M.C. Sec. 53.06.5)

* Do not leave pet food or water bowls outside if your pet is not outdoors. Local law requires that food and water be available to your pet when it is kept outside.
* However, bring in the dishes when your pet is inside.
* Do not allow pets to roam from home.
* Do not set your trash out for pick-up until the day of pick-up to reduce attracting predators in the middle of the night.
* Do not attempt to pet or otherwise make contact with them. Coyotes are wild animals and should be treated as such.
* Never leave small children unattended.
* Do not throw food into an open compost pile.

DETERRENTS & SCARE TACTICS

* Spray a little ammonia in your trash can several times a week to cut the odor of food.
* Place moth balls or moth ball cakes in areas where coyotes sleep or hang out to deter them from staying.
* Motion activated devices such as lights, strobe lights and sprinklers can be useful.
* Use radios that are set to talk or news stations to help deter the coyotes.
* Use a Coyote Shaker: A can containing a few coins which can be shaken and thrown at the coyote.
* Throw balls or rocks. Bang two pans together, blow a whistle, use an air horn or use high pressure water sprayer.
* Alternate the deterrents to prevent the coyote from getting used to one method.

Common Q&A

What should I do if a coyote approaches me?

Wave your arms. Shout in a low, loud tone. Throw objects at the coyote while maintaining eye contact. Make yourself look as big as possible; if you are wearing a jacket open it up like a cape. If possible go towards active or populated areas but do not turn your back on the coyote.

How can I keep my dog safe?

If you live in coyote country, closely supervise your dog. Walk your dog on a leash at all times and stay close to high pedestrian traffic areas. Try not to establish a regular routine and route to avoid setting up a pattern for the coyote to detect. Avoid bushy areas or paths near abandoned properties. If you notice a coyote when walking your dog, keep your dog as close to you as possible and move towards an active area. Never encourage or allow your dog to interact or “play” with coyotes.

.All Politics, All the Time

VI. The Fallacy of the Urban Form

Initially distracted by the plethora of “visions” in the “Strategic Framework” for the revision of the land use and circulation elements of the General Plan (LUCE), I have finally found its throughline — “urban form.”

In certain areas of Santa Monica, according to the “framework,”
“urban form” is lacking, in other areas it’s present and in still others it’s the goal.

But what is “urban form?” It’s so general as to be meaningless, and all the more ominous for it. New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia are all “urban,” but they’re wholly different in “form.”

The planners never define or explain what they mean by “urban form,” though it’s the basis of the LUCE revision.

Of course, Santa Monica isn’t “urban,” nor is it “suburban,” or “rural.” It’s a beach town, an anomaly, and that should be the basis for the revision. But, as we have learned the hard way, our planners and consultants don’t know what to do with anomalies – except overlook them. And as they are more at home with the theoretical than the actual, they have inevitably inclined toward urban form, which is a concept, not a fact, and as useless as silly putty. You can push it, pull it, poke it, stretch it, and compress it, but no matter what you do or how artfully you do it, you can’t make anything of value out of it.

In fact, the planners adopted the “urban form” in advance of the revision, applying ”urban design principles” in downtown Santa Monica.

Ignoring the classic scale that had prevailed for a century, they increased height and density limits, extended the eastern perimeter and turned easy streets, like Sixth, into brutal cement canyons. They spent $15 million on the “Transit Mall,” which has turned traffic congestion into gridlock. They turned up the volume on the Promenade. And they did it all in the name of “urban form.”

The Janss building at the south end of the Promenade is frequently cited by urban form enthusiasts on the staff and Council as a perfect example of the ways in which upper floor setbacks make tall, densely made buildings seem smaller. That’s wishful thinking of the delusional sort. The outsized building is simply too tall and too bulky, and, in fact, demonstrates that setback height and bulk do not make large buildings seem smaller and more compatible in this low-rise town, but merely insult to the eye and the townscape.

Though urban form has diminished downtown Santa Monica, LUCE would extend it to the boulevards and the various areas it designates as “activity centers” and “districts.”

At its inception what is now LUCE was called a “revision,” which is what the state mandates. Early on. the planners began calling it an “update,” which is, by no means, synonymous with ‘revision,” but what they are up to, as is made manifestly clear in the “framework,” is a radical redesign of Santa Monica, which needs revision, but does not need a redesign. Here and now, residents want this iconic beach town toned down, not tuned up. But if the City Council doesn’t assert its much-bruited authority – either on its own or driven by residents — and order the planners to dial their hopelessly wrong redesign down to a simple, workable revision, we and the beach town we love are in for a very bumpy ride.

Among other things, “the LUCE Vision” would “maintain character and enhance lifestyle.” In fact, judging by the copious illustrations, it would obliterate character, while reducing our very divergent lives to one suitable “lifestyle.”

Among the “Six Framework Elements” is “Urban Character and Form.” To that end, it would turn the area around Bergamot Station, which, according to the planners, already has too little open space, into an “eclectic creative arts and residential neighborhood” dominated by the “mixed use”
motif.

Among other things, a new tighter grid would be installed to increase “connectivity,” Bergemot would become a “transit village.” and height and density limits would be increased, permitting buildings to range up to 75 feet.

And so, an area with too little open space would, if the planners have their way, be loaded up with mixed use affordable, workforce and market rate housing of the tall sort, more sidewalks and streets, and Bergamot would become a “transit village.”

Bergamot was a rail station originally. When the trains stopped running, warehouses dominated. Then, in one of the first and best examples of ”adaptive reuse,” the old warehouses became sleek galleries. From then until now, Bergemot Station has been one of Los Angeles’s most celebrated gatherings of galleries and artists.

It is an appropriate location for a station on the proposed light rail line. But the planners’ desire to turn this unique arts enclave into “a transit village,” complete with a hotel, is another horrific example of their bizarre need to pit everything everywhere.

Do they imagine that people who’ve just taken the light rail from downtown L.A. to Bergamot will be too exhausted by the trip to go on to downtown Santa Monica and will check into Hotel Bergamot.

In fact, the imposition of “urban form” on one of our unique precincts would render it formless. because when you attempt to put everything everywhere you get chaos.

According to the “framework,” the planners want to impose “urban form,”aka everything, or chaos, all over our already traumatized townscape.

The plan for Memorial Park is quite as mad as the Bergamot plan, and another example of the planners’ drive to put everything everywhere. The park is one of our larger parks and one of the few with playing fields. Several years ago, the City bought the Fisher Lumber Company property, which occupied the rest of the park’s block.

It originally planned to locate a mixed use affordable housing project there, Later, it decided to expand the busy park. Now if LUCE prevails, the park will be play reduced to a supporting role.

The LUCE “vision” for it is: “A new neighborhood centered around a city park, a geographical and functional central park for Santa Monica within a new urban neighborhood focused around the proposed Midtown station on the Exposition light rail line.”

Currently, the planners note, “Poor urban form detracts from park.”

On the other hand, the creation of an entire new and taller neighborhood of mixed use affordable and workforce housing. a light rail station, underground parking, and a “joint development” with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, could simply swallow the park — except that the City is now talking about extending the park over the freeway to the Pico Neighborhood.

The planners and some Council members like to think they’re very advanced when they speak of “urban form” and its primary element – “mixed use.”

But, in fact, the Godmother of “urban form” and its keynote, “mixed use,” Jane Jacobs developed the rationale in her 1961 classic, “The Death and Life of American Cities.”

Her book was, in part, a response to and critique of the “bigger is better” philosophy of New York’s “master builder” Robert Moses, who is generally credited with radically changing the face of New York City and state with massive public works projects.

Jacobs argued that the mega-projects were killing the city’s spirit, which abided in the city’s traditional neighborhoods that were dominated by apartment buildings whose ground floors were occupied by stores and shops (i.e., “urban form” and “mixed use”). In such neighborhoods, street life flourished.

The preservation of such neighborhoods, Jacobs argued, not massive projects like Moses’ Westside Highway that wiped out dozens of such neighborhoods, would sustain the city.

Jacobs’ book attracted a lot of attention and inspired a lot of planners, though some critics dismissed it as sentimental nonsense.

It’s a good book, well worth reading for its passionate defense of a particular kind of city life. But I think Jacobs would be outraged by the planners’ imposition of “urban form” on an iconic beach town, in spite of residents’ stated wish to retain its small scale and preserve its integrity.

Thoreau wrote a century before Jacobs, but one of his dictums is pertinent here:”Simplify, simplify.” And, of course. Rita Rudner is always pertinent: “You can’t have Everything. Where would you put it?” .

(Next: the Oz factor)

More PCH Closures Set

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) will close one lane of Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in alternating directions from Malibu to the McClure Tunnel on Thursday, August 21 and Friday, August 22 from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. for pavement markings and striping.

It’s all part of a $7 million, 11.6-mile paving project from Malibu Lagoon Bridge to the tunnel. The existing concrete pavement is being replaced with Rubberized Asphalt Concrete (RAC).

Raised pavement markers, traffic striping and markings are also being replaced. In addition, manhole cover heights are being adjusted, and loop detectors (speed sensors) that are embedded in the roadway are being modified.

According to Caltrans, the work will be completed this fall.