Sustainability is often conceived of as preserving the current lifestyle or status quo, which is viewed as favorable, at least for those for whom it works. Like apple pie, Norman Rockwell and mom, the Santa Monica version is the “Sleepy Beachtown.”
But this is a vision through rose-tinted glasses.
While Santa Monica is a beach town it is also one that is surrounded by a mega-city. We cannot live in a vacuum and, even if we wanted to, could only be sleepy if nothing was happening: no jobs, no entertainment, no politics except the good ol’ boys in the back room.
Our sleepy retirement berg was awakened years ago by Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights. They recognized the worth and value of everyone supporting a “complete community” by ensuring affordable housing and social equity as well as environmental awareness. Santa Monica became a hot bed of politics and art. It suddenly became a creative center, morphing from art to film to tech because of its variety, beauty, policies and location. Santa Monica has not been sleepy for a long time, cannot be, and would not want to return to the time when it was a backwater.
What has this to do with where we are now and the development occurring around us? The paradox is that it is the continuation of our progressive politics and the fear and resistance to the ongoing change is akin to the fear of change when SMRR changed the face of Santa Monica. How can this be? It has to do with the concept of sustainability and its focus on social equity, economic opportunity and the environment. It is not just about those who are well positioned and self satisfied, but providing for the next generation the opportunity to live and work in Santa Monica.
California has mandated that we reduce our carbon footprint, a key sustainability element. SB 375 requires we reduce our vehicle miles traveled. This has big implications for our land use and transportation systems. We are required to densify our community, reduce our dependency on cars, and create a complete community. For the last three decades, Santa Monica has been at the forefront of the progressive sustainability movement and the Land Use & Circulation Element (LUCE) makes it part of the city’s DNA. LUCE meets and beats the state-mandated carbon footprint while addressing and sustaining the social equity and economic justice of our citizens. It preserves our traditional neighborhoods by ensuring that housing for all is created, addressing transportation and circulation and mandating that peak hour auto traffic cannot increase, and by making sure that any major new development accrues benefits that bolster the progressive ideals of our community. These benefits include childcare, support of the arts, public and open space, and elevated environmental standards.
The Bergamot Transit Village meet these requirements by providing housing for low through extremely low-income residents; the most aggressive traffic demand management program ever, with penalties if it doesn’t succeed; jobs; retail and entertainment; open space and childcare; and sustainable design.
In short it is a complete community.
What if the site is not developed? The existing building will most likely be transformed into creative office space. The projections are that the p.m. peak trips for the office use will be 255 trips, whereas the proposed office development, even while approximately doubling the floor area, will only generate 228 trips, a reduction! Without the Hines project, not only will the traffic be increased, no housing will be provided, further upsetting our city’s jobs/housing balance. There would be no urban village, creating a dead zone adjacent to the station.
We agree that the architectural design leaves much to be desired. It is a project that looks as if it has been designed by committee. It’s choppy and every architectural style in the playbook has been trotted out. It needs to be rethought. Fewer voices, better designs and a compelling overall vision is required. We understand that Hines will revisit the design, and expect the city to hold it to our high standards.
If we are to honor the process by which the LUCE was created and the goals it set, and if we want to continue to develop a thriving and creative community that caters to all, then we should support this project.
The authors live, work and have diverse architectural and consulting practices that include Santa Monica construction projects.
• Michael W. Folonis, FAIA, architect, principal of Santa Monica firm Michael W. Folonis Architects, former Architectural Review Board member, currently director of the Los Angeles AIA Board, board member of Santa Monica Conservancy, 41-year Santa Monica resident.
• Gwynne Pugh, FAIA, architect and engineer, LEED AP, principal of Santa Monica firm Gwynne Pugh Urban Studio, Inc., former chair of the Planning Commission, currently director of the Los Angeles AIA Board, 37-year Santa Monica resident.
• Linda Jassim, writer and editor, landscape designer. Principal of Santa Monica firm Studio J, former chair and current member of the Santa Monica Arts Commission, 37-year Santa Monica resident.
• John Zinner, sustainability and green building consultant, LEED fellow, principal at Zinner Consultants, former Planning and Housing commissioner, currently vice president of Santa Monica Conservancy, 35-year Santa Monica resident.
• Hank Koning, FAIA, architect, principal of Santa Monica firm Koning Eizenberg Architecture, LEED AP, former chair of the Planning Commission, 32-year Santa Monica Resident.