We have a vision for Santa Monica:
• That Santa Monica’s quality of life is what is “iconic” and higher density and building mass don’t equate with quality of life.
• That we see Santa Monica as a unique gateway to the beach and the Pacific, not as an extension of Wilshire Boulevard and Bundy Drive.
• That its success and attraction is its human-scale, low-rise courtyard buildings, pedestrian-oriented Downtown and its pier, palisades and promenade — all open to the sky.
• That we strongly agree with the Land Use & Circulation Element’s main principle “to maintain the character of Santa Monica” and with its conservation plan “that provides for an overall reduction in building height.”
• That it’s a vibrant, walkable Downtown; it’s the promenade or the Brentwood Country Mart, but not The Grove or replicating the Wilshire corridor along Ocean Avenue or Lincoln Boulevard.
• That we see courtyard housing and terraced offices, not towers and robotic facades that are creating the cookie cutter clutter on Broadway and Lincoln, or the massive density and inappropriate scale of what is inexplicably called The Village on Ocean Avenue.
• That it’s Shutters or Shores, not the proposed Miramar or high-rise condos disguised as hotels.
• That architecture is anchored to its site rather than speaking only to contemporary trends and the bottom line for developers.
• That streets have wide landscaped sidewalks, not massive buildings reflecting the vision of developers.
• That we need dedicated green space and plazas in our Downtown.
• That we see adaptive reuse of one- and two-story buildings interspersed with new three- and four-story buildings terraced with step backs.
• That we see a low-rise, human and pedestrian scaled Downtown with the warmth of local merchants, cheek and jowl with corporate chain stores rather than next to the cold indifference of a high-rise structure.
• In short, that our vision is keeping the “iconic Downtown” iconic.
Did you know that it took 128 years to reach 12 million square feet of building area in Downtown, or that the current 1984 code allows approximately 19 million square feet, or in other words, a hefty 60 percent growth remains within the existing code? City Council’s suggested zoning is approximately 25 million square feet or over 100 percent of additional area within the next 20 years.
Seventy percent of the buildings in Downtown are one and two stories, but the proposed zoning will rapidly turn 85 percent of these into six-, seven-, or eight-story buildings — reflecting the developers’ own vision for maximum return on investment while creating canyon walls of steel and stucco with Downtown losing character, texture, sunlight and blue skies in the process.
Lincoln Boulevard, predominantly one and two stories, will quickly become a canyon of six- to eight-story buildings along with a huge increase in traffic. By encouraging growth to this extent, we will ensure the loss of our local small business community — replaced with more expensive space oriented to tourists and those who can afford the higher prices. Traffic will increase and available parking will decrease proportionately — almost certainly coming to a standstill.
All of that will result in an enormous increase in infrastructure capacity required for schools, water, power, and waste management, which will also considerably increase your tax bill. “Community benefits” in exchange for increased density and height fall far short of associated costs and environmental impacts.
How much development can the city center support? Dense cities are expensive cities; higher density results in increased cost of living and doing business. How do we manage success and still hold on to our values while greed threads its way unchecked through our social and political lives?
What’s happening to Downtown is painful to watch, like reading a book and slowly turning the pages to find out what the ending will be. A slow death by a thousand cuts, by a hundred buildings, by a handful of developers — who don’t even live in our community. Don’t let bad planning allow a developer to so maximize a site that it leaves behind wreckage.
We see simple solutions in using a zoning code that allows building design to create open space and a truly pedestrian environment. An economically vibrant Downtown can include a one-story reduction in all areas currently zoned above 50 feet with a corresponding floor area ratio that includes a 30 percent open space envelope allowing terracing of buildings while opening views to the sky. And there can be front yard setbacks allowing widening of landscaped sidewalks.
Santa Monica is capable of charting its own future. Why, City Council, are you doing this? Why are you letting a handful of developers and their architects ruin the city you represent and we live in and love? Why do you want your legacy to be the destruction of Santa Monica as we know it? We suggest you take three deep breaths, calm down, take the time and find the wisdom to do what’s best. Henry Ford said “failure is simply an opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”
Ron Goldman, FAIA, architect
Bob Taylor, AIA, architect
Dan Jansenson, architect
Thane Roberts, AIA, architect
Armen Melkonians, civil and environmental engineer
Phil Brock, chair, Santa Monica Recreation & Parks Commission