Over the next few weeks, the City Council will approve the city’s new Land Use and Circulation Element — the general blueprint for growth and development in Santa Monica over the next two decades.
In the works for six years, LUCE has been subject to an enormous amount of public comment. City staff favors public input it agrees with while ignoring the rest of us, so the original LUCE elements are still mostly intact. For example, additional building heights and directing new construction to major transit routes.
Increased use of mass transit, bicycle and pedestrian amenities to solve traffic and mobility problems are favored. Unfortunately, bike lanes, wider sidewalks, landscaping and dedicated mass transit lanes will only happen if existing vehicular lanes are removed. This can only lead to more congestion.
Colorado Avenue, where Expo Light Rail will run at street level from Fourth to 18th streets, is the ideal location for new development with ground floor “neighborhood-serving” retail and affordable/workforce housing on upper floors. It’ll “eliminate the need to drive” LUCE (falsely) promises.
Five story, mixed-use projects or “neighborhood activity centers” are proposed for key intersections such as the Albertsons properties on Lincoln and Ocean Park boulevards and Wilshire Boulevard and Berkeley Street. But again, traffic impacts aren’t addressed.
Typical of the kind of mixed-use development recommended by LUCE is a 45-foot-tall, 37,377-square-foot, mixed-use building with 26 one, two and three bedroom apartments slated for 2919-2923 Wilshire — currently Jerry’s Liquor. It will have 11,600 square feet of ground-floor commercial space including a market and subterranean parking for 100 vehicles.
Even though this development is a “preferred project” because of its mixed-use configuration and LEED status, it will create substantial and irreparable traffic problems at Wilshire and Stanford Street, according to planning reports. Nevertheless, in the spirit of LUCE, this banal project was recently approved and even praised by the Planning Commission. It’s an exemplar for a raft of similar projects LUCE recommends for major streets citywide.
LUCE calls for preservation of residential neighborhoods and expects to accomplish this by encouraging the above-mentioned mixed-use construction on all major travel thoroughfares such as Broadway and Lincoln, Pico, Olympic, Santa Monica and Wilshire boulevards.
However, there’s nothing in LUCE (except for a philosophical desire to preserve courtyard and other “charming” apartment buildings) that prevents or restricts displacement of residents and redevelopment. Quiet, multi-family neighborhoods away from main thoroughfares will still be prime targets for urban renewal.
In recent weeks, developers, real estate and business interests and one prominent law firm with many developer clients has advocated for even more favorable development standards in LUCE. Council should weigh these “special interest” requests very carefully.
Among their “last minute” recommendations is an additional increase in overall building heights by two to six feet. While this would mean better financial return, it would result in even taller buildings all over the city when most residents favor lower height limits.
Texas developer Hines proposes almost a million square feet of new construction and a new maximum height of 81-feet for its Bergamot Transit Village on the former Paper Mate site. The additional loftiness and density is not sitting well for most neighbors concerned about height, crowding and unresolvable traffic impacts.
Business interests and developers are also asking for increased floor area in new buildings. This would result in twice as much residential redevelopment as the draft LUCE proposed.
Some business interests have suggested that parts of Lincoln Boulevard between Wilshire and Interstate-10 be re-zoned for car dealerships. The last thing we need here is another “auto row,” even if the dealerships were to have apartments above their showrooms.
Another bad idea being floated is extending the hospital district along Wilshire and shifting the development of new hospital workforce housing from the hospitals themselves to City Hall.
But there’s another problem: City Council members voting on LUCE who’ve accepted developer money for re-election campaigns.
Mayor Pro Tempore Pam O’Connor raised $6,675 from July 1 through Dec. 31, 2009 for her 2010 re-election coffers mostly from developers, attorneys, architects, tourism industry donors and real estate interests, according to disclosure statements filed with the City Clerk.
Richard Bloom’s 2008 “Re-elect Richard Bloom” campaign collected thousands from developers, consultants, architects, real estate interests and car dealers.
Interim Councilman Terry O’Day (who wasn’t even a candidate in 2008 but was on the Planning Commission at the time) also received thousands of dollars from developers that year; $3,000 alone came from associates of Hines, whose Bergamot Transit Village is awaiting its development agreement and would be a direct beneficiary of the “development friendly” LUCE standards recently proposed by its attorneys.
Next LUCE meetings are July 1 and July 6 at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council chambers. Their decisions on controversial LUCE elements will be watched closely to see which master — residents or developers — they really serve.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.