At last Wednesday night’s Planning Commission meeting, developers presented two proposed apartment projects located on Lincoln, across Colorado from each other (on the former sites of Norm’s and Denny’s). They’re too large – 90 to 100 apartments in each project, each project is too tall, too dense for its site and the area, and too large for Santa Monica.
Residents have spoken again and again about the need to maintain, preserve and extend our town’s unique beach front character and scale. They have said, repeatedly, emphatically and eloquently, that commercial projects must be of a size, style and scale that are compatible with and complimentary to their specific locations and Santa Monica as a whole.
City officials and planners nod and smile, but they persist in proposing and promoting oversized and undistinguished projects all wrapped up in what they call “urban form.”
On April 24, 2007, in an “interim City Council ordinance to modify the development review thresholds and declare the presence of an emergency,” staff wrote: “Santa Monica is a small, extremely dense, older, coastal city consisting of just 8 square miles of land bordered on one side by the Pacific Ocean and on three sides by the megalopolis of Los Angeles.”
City Ordinance: “Approximately 87,000 people live in the City, on weekdays there are about 300,000 present in the City, and on weekends and holidays the number of persons in the City soars to between 500,000 and 1 million….Santa Monica’s population density, eleven thousand two hundred persons per square mile, is the second highest among neighboring and nearby jurisdictions and is the densest among coastal communities in Los Angeles County.”
Dispatch: Eight square miles, a million people, 11,300 per square mile, the densest coastal community in L.A. county. A formula for a municipal mess.
City Ordinance: “Santa Monica has been fully built out for over 50 years, In the last 25 years, land values within the City have soared due, in large part, to the land’s scarcity and prime location, the excellent climate, and to the desirability of living and working in a community which offers a vast array of urban amenities and services, a unique sense of community, pedestrian-oriented scale, and economic and social diversity.”
Dispatch: Fully built out over 50 years ago? No wonder the traffic’s such a nightmare.
City Ordinance: “In recent years, ever-escalating land values, economic prosperity, and changes in state law have fueled a massive increase in development which has significantly altered the physical and social landscape of the City.”
Dispatch: Residents have said again and again that we don’t want and will not approve any significant alteration or diminution of the landscape of the city or its priceless beach town character.
City Ordinance: “Throughout this period of rapid development and change, the City Council has adopted a series of laws relating to land use and housing which were intended to strike and restrike the balance between potentially conflicting municipal values and policies in order to best protect the health, safety and welfare of Santa Monica residents.”
Dispatch: The building boom didn’t protect residents’ health, safety and welfare, it made major dents in our town.
City Ordinance: “During the last ten years, land use planning and regulation in Santa Monica has been driven by the ceaseless effort to balance the City’s commitment to maintaining economic and social diversity through the maintenance and production of housing for all economic segments of the community, with its commitment to protecting the environment, preserving the quietude of residential neighborhoods, and maintaining the experience of life on a human scale.”
Dispatch: Little or no effort has been made to restore the town’s “balance” that City Hall had knocked akimbo,
City Ordinance: “During that time period, the City Council has adopted a series of laws intended to foster the development of affordable housing and to concentrate housing development in the City’s commercial districts in order to both meet housing goals and preserve quality of life in established residential neighborhoods.”
Dispatch: Allegedly preserving the quality of life in the established residential neighborhood, while putting the affordable housing in the commercial districts has created new problems.
City Ordinance: “Due to these efforts, between 1998 and 2005, 62% of new residential developments were constructed in the City’s commercial districts and 84% of the residential units with building permits issued as of December 2005 will be located in these districts…”
Dispatch: More of a bad thing cannot be seen as better, no matter how devious its presentation is.
City Ordinance: “The City has also provided various incentives for the production of affordable housing, including height and density bonuses, and reduced parking and open space requirements.
Dispatch: Developers shouldn’t get rewards. Affordable housing tenants should get clean, efficient, comfortable housing.
City Ordinance: “A development review permit is intended to allow the construction of certain projects for which the design and siting could result in an adverse impact on the surrounding area such as development that is proposed to be built to a greater intensity and building height than is generally permitted in the area.”
Dispatch: Thus are residents of all stripes victims of bad planning, and the town is diminished.
City Ordinance: “For the most part, the City has been able to preserve residents’ quality of life and the environment, notwithstanding significant development in an already extremely dense environment; this has been accomplished by carefully crafting and adjusting the public review processes applicable to development within the City…These extremely large and dense projects greatly exceed historic development patterns in the City. There are many additional sites in the City which are or could be available for similar large, dense projects.
“In public hearings on the LUCE update, residents have demanded that development be regulated strategically to perfect the policy balance between the need for new housing and the community’s insistence upon preserving quality of life and the environment.”
Dispatch: City Hall has not listened to residents, much less responded to their demands.
A year after City officials approved this interim ordinance, residents, noting that 9 million square feet of new commercial development had been added to the Santa Monica townscape, placed a measure on the 2008 ballot that would have limited commercial development to 75,000 square feet a year for 15 years. Larger projects would have been submitted to city voters.
Though Prop T seemed to reflect City Hall’s posture on commercial development as expressed in its 2007 interim ordinance, the City turned its biggest guns on Prop T. The City Manager, Planning Director and City Council members all bashed it. Developers underwrote a $700,000 assault on it. Prominent citizens, including State Senator Shiela Kuehl, appeared in a tsunami of mailers, savaging Prop T. Judy Abdo and Terry O’Day ran a bogus committee, “Save Our City,” which alleged Prop T would destroy the City and the schools. Prop T failed: 18,439 to 23,061.
Dispatch: Long live Residocracy.