It is curious, and instructive, that Urban Sense’s May 1 column “The paradox of Whole Foods” chooses that particular 2000-era project to archly scold residents for wanting protection from unanticipated commercial impacts.
The Wilshire Whole Foods, at 28,000 square feet, barely slipped in under an old threshold of 30,000 square feet for “administrative approval,” meaning there was no public hearing by the Planning Commission or City Council.
Even though a local architect (and colleague of the columnists) was engaged, the resultant structure disrespected the neighborhood the store hoped to serve. The parking garage design problems over which Urban Sense attempts to gloss created an immediate street-parking crisis for whole blocks of nearby residents. The store’s loading dock was inexplicably placed right across a narrow alley from a family’s home.
Whole Foods was such a disaster for its resident neighbors that I led the City Council to change the rules for “administrative approval,” so that public hearings are required for projects a quarter the size.
What Urban Sense failed to mention is that they support returning to the “bad old days” when architects and their commercial clients could get administrative approvals on far larger projects. The zoning protections residents want to retain in our new code would not make larger projects unbuildable; they’d just keep the public’s hand on the stamp of approval — as it should be.
Isn’t this the crux of our current development conflicts: how to build new things in Santa Monica, while respecting the interests of existing Santa Monica neighbors who have invested our lives here?