Dear City Council,
I’ve never written a letter to a public servant in my life. You are my first. Such is the nature of my dismay at the current state of Santa Monica development.
I’ve lived in Santa Monica for 20 years, own a townhouse here, and have a production company with offices here. What has precipitated this letter is an uneasy sense that the growth happening in Santa Monica has reached a tipping point. With everything already slated for construction, I’m afraid we have already blown past the kind of sustainability that you find important.
I am no anti-growth nostalgist. Quite the opposite. I’ve watched with approval as old buildings were torn down for modern mixed-use apartments. In general, I’ve been OK with much of the recent development that has gone on in our little town, especially cool new hotels like the Shore Hotel on Ocean Avenue, which looks great while keeping its height in line with the existing skyline. I’ve been thrilled with the public library, the restoration of the park on the bluffs, and eagerly await the new park being built opposite City Hall. The goal of a walkable community, combining work, play and living, is terrific. Much of the building has pulled Santa Monica out of the sleepy 1980s. The [Third Street] Promenade is a huge success, as is the new mall. (I don’t yearn for the days when the Laemmle Theater on Second Street showed X-rated movies!)
You and your co-council members have done many things right. But suddenly, our little town feels overrun. Downtown is clogged beyond recognition. The NMS properties that initially seemed cool, now seem conformist (and metastasizing everywhere), with high rents.
Please hire different builders with more interesting architects that will create stepped back street facades, so that when you walk down the street there is light, rather than a wall of buildings. The block of Fifth Street between Broadway and Santa Monica Boulevard, on the west side, is a good example of ugly buildings with a pre-fab facade of architecture that will look dated in five years and looks ugly now, all while blocking the sun and ocean breezes. Vancouver, a city that mixes interesting architecture with lots of open park space, might be a good place to draw inspiration.
The upcoming destruction of beloved eateries like Fritto Misto and Norms feels like a loss of individuality. The advent of corporate chains beyond the promenade denude the general feel of the town. The proposed Miramar Hotel and Gehry tower are terrifying, blowing past sensible height restrictions on Ocean. As much as I’m a fan of Disney Hall and Bilbao, and Gehry is one of my favorite architects, I think the current design will stick out like a sore thumb in our beach community. I have no idea what the huge monolithic building going up behind the Chevron Station on Lincoln [Boulevard], overlooking Interstate 10, is going to be, but it can only add to the almost impossible traffic on Lincoln (20 minutes from Wilshire to the 10 Freeway). Down the street from my office is another enormous project at the corner of Arizona Avenue and Seventh Street, replacing a small post production facility.
I am not alone in my concerns. An increasing number of friends, homeowners, and business people I’ve spoken to are growing uneasy to the point of political action. It’s not just the large-scale projects that have us worried, it’s tucking in an apartment building in every last available opening, squeezing the space out of our town. Why doesn’t the City Council take a deep breath and put a moratorium on new construction until we see the effects of everything already in motion? Surely, after 15 years of unfettered development, such a breather is warranted and won’t hurt our town’s commerce, while saving what makes Santa Monica special.