Last Monday, I mentioned that the Planning Commission would be reviewing and commenting on work done to date on the Downtown Specific Plan (DSP) on Wednesday, Jan. 9. I urged readers to attend the meeting and comment.
Because the staff report was late last week, there wasn’t adequate time to review it. So, at the request of numerous neighborhood activists, the DSP review has been rescheduled for this coming Wednesday, Jan.16.
Five public meetings have been held so far and there’s more ahead. This plan is a work in progress and your input is needed. The final DSP will determine the fate of the entire Downtown Santa Monica area.
The DSP is inspired by the new Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) that envisions “a thriving, mixed-use urban environment that provides multiple opportunities for living, working, entertainment and enrichment,” says the staff report. The DSP is supposed to compliment the design, land use and traffic planning parameters in LUCE, which defines City Hall’s basic planning philosophy for the next 25 to 30 years, citywide.
The report says there’s a considerable demand for working, living, shopping and entertainment space, Downtown. Estimates are that 1,400 to 2,000 new apartments and 300 to 500 new condos will be needed over the next 15 years. And, even more retail space like grocery stores will be needed to serve new residents moving into the area.
A trio of new hotels approved (but not yet under construction) will provide 560 new hotel rooms. But, staff estimates that’s about 1,000 rooms short of what will be needed by 2020. At least 100,000 to 200,000 square feet of new retail space will be required just to handle the projected five percent annual increase in tourism. Sheesh!
LUCE sees a Downtown that integrates all modes of transportation including the incoming Expo Light Rail, preserves the area’s unique character and maintains and enhances a vibrant commercial and residential life — in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner.
Mobility is a major element in both the LUCE and DSP. Therefore, links to the Civic Center to the south and the Santa Monica Pier to the west, accommodating all form of transportation — from private vehicles, to bus and mass transit, walking and bicycling — are mandatory says the report.
The DSP must embrace a multitude of uses including retail, housing, entertainment and culture. Physically, the Downtown area must provide open space or mini-parks, adequate public parking, preservation of historic resources as well as provide other public benefits. In other words, Downtown must be suitable for living, working, shopping, dining and entertaining all at the same time. It’s a tall order.
The staff report notes that the expansion of housing Downtown over the last 15 years has brought in 2,500 new residents. A total of 5,000 residents in all now “contribute to the vibrancy of the area.”
The report attributes specific “character” to various Downtown streets. It suggests that “underutilized” properties such as surface parking lots can “accommodate additional mixed-use projects and smaller office uses.” And, the open spaces replaced by “infill” developments can be replaced by small pocket parks, elsewhere. But, it isn’t the same thing or better.
The eastern edge of “Downtown” — Lincoln Boulevard — is facing the biggest changes. Nearly a dozen new, mixed-use, four and five floor developments are proposed between Wilshire Boulevard and the I-10 Freeway.
When fully occupied, they will contribute substantially to traffic congestion on one of the city’s most heavily traveled corridors. An important goal of the DSP is to provide more walkability to the area, but with more traffic, how can that be achieved without more gridlock and impassable streets? And, don’t forget bicycles.
Add Expo trains crossing Lincoln 24 times an hour during morning and even rush hours and the potential for complete gridlock is assured by this example of incoherent urban planning.
Southern Downtown edge sites adjacent to the (light rail) station and the freeway lend themselves to transit-oriented development opportunities where additional height has minimal impact, states the report. Therefore, height increases of between 28 and 39 feet over present code are recommended in this area.
Some eight “opportunity” sites in the same sector, mostly along Colorado and Ocean avenues, could provide public benefits such as larger parking lots, cultural institutions, parks or “architecturally significant” buildings.
Overall, additional cultural amenities including live theater, a museum, art galleries and movie theaters are desired. It’s too bad the Civic Center Specific Plan was so badly botched because “the arts” would be better served in the Civic Center.
Cultural amenities could have (should have) been located near the Civic Auditorium which would have opened a world of circulation opportunities, expanded the Downtown experience and spread out services and its impacts, both good and bad. Alas, kiss that idea good-bye thanks to bad planning courtesy of an incompetent Civic Center Specific Plan.
The devil is in the details. There’s a lot left to be done and my fear is that planning staff and its consultant, Neal Payton, are adding way too many ingredients to this stew.
Most of my friends and I avoid “Downtown Santa Monica.” It’s already too crowded, too congested, inconvenient and user-unfriendly. Parking’s a nightmare. Pricey retail stores and trendy eateries offer nothing unique. So far, the DSP seems to offer more of the same and even bigger problems — over a wider area.
Read the report for yourself at www01.smgov.net/planning.
To comment, contact the Planning Commission or go the review in person Wednesday at 7 p.m. in City Hall’s council chambers.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org