Drum roll, please! It’s that time of the year again. The 2015 Sammy Awards — my annual nods to what’s good, bad and ugly in Santa Monica.
Development continues to be the major issue. Most projects are oversized and downright ugly. No wonder folks want “slow” or “no” growth.
City Council has voted to advance a mixed-use mega-development on our city-owned land between 4th and 5th streets along Arizona Avenue. The city-hired developer suggests a 12-floor, 148-foot structure with offices, a hotel, apartments (including 48 “affordable” units), plazas, cultural space and underground parking.
Eighty-four feet (seven floors) is too much, even for downtown. The city can’t even stay within its own zoning guidelines. Why would we think any private developer would reign in the hideousness if City Hall won’t do it?
There are a couple of other proposed projects that are notorious for their inappropriateness, bad design, incompatible sighting and excessive size and density.
A proposed 330,344-square-foot, 84-foot-tall, seven-floor, mixed-use complex at 500 Broadway sets new standards for distasteful, overly large development. Developer DK Broadway LLC and Koning Eizenberg Architecture share the “Aesthetically underwhelming” Sammy for this hodge-podge.
The 10-unit apartment complex at 802 Ashland Ave., on a steep hillside above the 2900 block of Lincoln Boulevard, is small compared to the usual development. Still, this project squeezes 10 apartments (thanks to housing bonuses and incentives) onto a lot zoned for four units, revealing huge shortcomings in the development process. Corner of Ashland (SM).LLC (affiliated with mega-developer the CIM Group) and Koning Eizenberg Architecture earn the “Shoehorn it in” Sammy.
The two large, ugly boxes under construction at the 5th Street and Colorado Avenue “gateway to the city” across from the new Expo light-rail terminal are new tourist hotels from OTO Development. The six-floor, 136-room Courtyard by Marriott Hotel and the six-floor, 143-room Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton designed by Gwynne Pugh Urban Studio in the despised “Bakersfield Modern” style have earned OTO Development and its architect the “Zero taste” Sammy.
The “Urban Ugly” Sammy is shared this year by City Council, Planning Department, Planning Commission and Architectural Review Board for their parts in aiding and abetting a host of uninspiring, unattractive and traffic-generating eyesores.
But wait. The “Carbuncle of the Year” Sammy goes to Alexander Gorby, whose controversial hotel proposal designed by Howard Laks for 7th Street and Wilshire Boulevard (behind the Santa Monica Professional Building) is excessively high and dense, boring, banal, uninviting and truly loathsome.
No Sammy Awards would be complete without recognizing the planning department’s transportation mis-managers. They earn the “Need more congestion” Sammy for the third year in a row for their “Safe Routes to School” fiasco next to Samohi, Bicycle Action Plan, Pedestrian Action Plan, Downtown Specific Plan and of course, LiNC — the “reimagining” of Lincoln Boulevard south of the Interstate 10 freeway. Special kudos to City Council for encouraging this crap.
City policy makers got frustrated with what they saw as foot-dragging by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on when the city could take control of Santa Monica Airport (SMO). Turns out, it’s 2023. An airport-sponsored publicity campaign #FAADoYourJob was formulated. SMO airport management earns the “Waste of time” Sammy for thinking they could pressure the FAA into speeding things up.
Another observation: when City Hall got impatient with the FAA, the complaints were long and loud. But when residents want speedy action on problems, we’re ignored or stonewalled with ethics rules and endless delays. “The “Do your job, City Hall” Sammy goes to the politicians and overpaid bureaucrats who want it both ways.
The “Let’s hire even more city employees” Sammy goes to City Manager Rick Cole, whose new six- to eight-employee Department of Communications is costing taxpayers $1 million annually.
State Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) sponsored two pieces of inept rule-making this year.
In California, citizens have the right to float a ballot measure for a new state law or constitutional amendment by filing a petition and a $200 filing fee. However, a bill co-authored by Bloom upped the fee to $2,000, the highest in the nation, prompting warnings that the statute limits the political clout of California citizens and makes it easier for deep-pocketed, special interest groups to dominate ballot initiatives. Gov. Jerry Brown signed it into law Sept. 1.
Another Bloom-backed bill — a tribute to nanny government — would have put a 2-cent-per-ounce tax on sodas and sugary beverages. Thankfully, it never became law. Nevertheless, Bloom easily earned the “Time to retire” Sammy.
Then, there’s the “Smartest guys in the world” Sammy. It goes to SMa.r.t. (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow), whose column appears in the weekend editions of the Daily Press. Full of good planning ideas, common sense and smart thinking, these guys — Thane Roberts, Mario Fonda-Bonardi, Robert H. Taylor, Ron Goldman, Daniel Jansenson, Samuel Tolkin, Armen Melkonians and Phil Brock — should be running City Hall’s Planning Department. We’d be a lot better off.
The “Doctor, Doctor, gimme the news” (Robert Palmer, 1979) Sammy goes to State Senator Ben Allen, whose wise legislation repealed the “personal belief” exemption that allowed parents to refuse to vaccinate their public school children from diseases like the measles. “We need to take steps to keep our schools safe and our students healthy,” Allen said. Amen.
Happy New Year, everyone. Here’s hoping for a more sane 2016.
Bill Bauer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.