Why does the city find itself in such a mess? Is City Hall run by Mr. Rizzo‚Äôs thin twin, along with a handful of outside developers taking advantage of Land Use & Circulation Element (LUCE) loopholes while specific plans and zoning ordinances are being processed (slowly) four years later?
Who‚Äôs the boss? In tandem with our city manager, the majority City Council is beholden to developer contributions and the need to increase tax revenue to cover high staff salaries and bloated pensions. Meanwhile, Planning Commission and Architectural Review Board (ARB) kick the can to each other while deciding what constitutes good design or if it even matters. And the planning staff are puppets, producing voluminous staff reports while overlooking basic issues.
LUCE “provides for a reduction in building height” but existing density and height are being increased, traffic reaching gridlock, infrastructure ignored, and local merchants priced out. What a sad reality!
City Hall‚Äôs consultant presented design proposals in response to the onslaught of mediocre architecture consuming Santa Monica like a plague. Like the fox in the hen house, it was comical seeing the Planning Commission taking lengthy counsel from three architects whose time undoubtedly was reimbursed by their developer clients.
One opined that massive facadomy taking over our streets is “better than architecture in other cities.” A former Planning Commission chair, who now pays homage to developer clients instead of thoughtful community design, dazzled the commission with numbers instead of suggestions. It was embarrassing to hear these architects admitting they were pawns of greedy clients. I guess it‚Äôs too much expecting the entire profession be held to a higher standard. This community deserves better than ex-chairpersons advocating more height, density and mediocre design. I thought the architecture profession stood for better environment.
Then there‚Äôs the Planning Commission and ARB who consistently endorse these bloated projects. Can they distinguish two from eight on a 10 scale? Two years ago I made a suggestion to our planning director that models would help their education. I thought, mistakenly, that “exceptional architecture” was a requirement for approval.
Planning Commission and City Council just approved two hotels, (designed by yet another former chair of the Planning Commission), one looking like a throwback to a 1960‚Äôs department store wrapped in a new chemise, doing nothing to create a meaningful gateway from Expo into Downtown. Is this your taste level, two on a 10 scale? You have the ability to say “no, come back with exceptional design, with a gateway that conveys our unique beach town culture.” There are simple solutions! Wake up city manager, planning director, consultants ‚Äî you‚Äôre being paid handsomely for so-called expertise.
Every city needs a raison d‚Äôetre, a spirit why people want to go there, stay there. What is Santa Monica‚Äôs; vertical six- to eight-story buildings throughout Downtown blocking sun and sky, generating monumental traffic and infrastructure problems? Is this the community‚Äôs raison d‚Äôetre or the city manager‚Äôs? Who‚Äôs more interested in job advancement than listening to the community? You can keep Downtown iconic while still providing for growth and economic health. Why would you want your legacy being the destruction of Santa Monica?
Is this mess due to Rizzo‚Äôs twin, the council, Planning Commission, ARB,¬† planning staff, LUCE, the Chamber of Commerce, tourist bureau, Santa Monicans for Renters‚Äô Rights? Unfortunately all of the above. If the community is to be guided by LUCE, it will take our pension-minded city manager to re-direct how to carry it out. Otherwise, “Rise & Fall of Santa Monica” will make interesting reading by future planners and politicians. What a mess. What a shame.