When in London, England my favorite area is East London — known as “Banglatown” for its recent arrival of high numbers of Pakistani, Indian and Bangladesh immigrants, its many curry houses and active street art scene.
For decades, most of the buildings along Whitechapel Road, Commercial Street and Brick Lane were two- to six-floor, post Victorian flats. For centuries, the tallest structure in the area was the steeple of Hawksmoor’s Christ Church, Spitalfields
There are many parallels between London’s East End and Santa Monica. Both have gone through changes and are experiencing an influx of a mix of well-to-do, immigrants and poor persons who want to live close to work. While the new luxury apartment blocks like the 24-floor Avant Garde in Shoreditch and the 25-floor Altitude and 21-floor One Commercial Street in Aldgate, are disliked by some, there doesn’t seem to be the heated opposition to height and mass that there is here.
Unlike Santa Monica, the entire London metropolitan area is dotted with 12- to 50-floor office blocks; luxury flat complexes and subsidized council estates (public housing).
In the last few years, the construction of glass and steel condo towers in what is now the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, may have become unwelcome intrusions for old-timers.
For young professionals and university students, the pricey, modern flats are perfect because of the area’s amenities such as the London Underground, busses, overground light rail network, lots of bike lanes, the central London financial district (an easy 20-minute walk) and lively nightlife. Low-income people in subsidized government housing also share many of these benefits.
Here, new developments generate complaints about traffic congestion, crowding and loss of Santa Monica’s unique ambience. In London, traffic impacts are negligible because of the excellent and well established network of public transportation. Londoners are more likely to complain about architecture and aesthetics than about traffic.
One Commercial Street sits directly over the Aldgate East underground (tube) station and the Avant Garde is a short walk from the London Overground. Some East Londoners own cars. Gasoline (petrol) is twice as expensive there as here. Insurance, garage/parking expense and congestion fees make the bus or tube, biking and walking more practical. If I lived in East London, I wouldn’t own a car.
Public transit won’t solve traffic problems arising out of all our new development. Expo’s route from Fourth Street to downtown Los Angeles is limited and its few connections are impractical. Expo won’t help much if you live here and work in Hollywood, the San Fernando Valley, Orange County and LAX area or vice versa.
A major flaw in Santa Monica’s planning is the theory that people who work here want to live here and won’t drive to work, school or to shop. They’ll walk or hop on a bus or bicycle say planners. That’s mistake No. 1. City Hall’s whole planning philosophy is built on myths and conjecture.
Is it reasonable to think that a person who rents an apartment in Hines’ Bergamot Transit Village, 3032 Wilshire Blvd., East Village or any of the nearly three dozen housing developments currently in the pipeline is never going to change jobs, acquire employment out of town and commute.
Is it reasonable to believe that a person working here will want to move here from somewhere else?
Or, will give up their home for a cramped, overpriced Santa Monica apartment on a noisy major thoroughfare?
Housing is City Hall’s and Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR’s) top priority — whether it be so-called low-income housing or “work force” housing which is really market rate housing in tiny apartments.
City Hall’s half-assed housing policy deliberately ignores the potential homeowner. Most cities have programs such as low-interest home mortgages. Not here.
The reason why is that the elected leaders — who are controlled by SMRR — needs renters/voters to keep them in power. Meanwhile, City Hall bureaucrats and public employee unions want the tax revenue and developer fees to pay higher salaries and benefits, vanity projects and more affordable housing for non-residents.
Virtually all the new housing in the pipeline is rental. When the developer of the East Village (the Village Trailer Park site) traded hundreds of condos for apartments including a handful of low-income units, he finally got his development approved.
Our situation is similar to the U.K. The British government builds council estates (financed by high taxes) for the poor while private developers provide housing for the wealthy. The middle class is squeezed out and lives in distant London suburbs, an hour train ride out of the city. Here, we have the same situation. The middle class and Santa Monica seniors are forced to move to places like Canyon Country, Torrance or Palmdale.
Kiss “mixing of the classes” good-bye. In Santa Monica, the segregation of well off families who can afford single family homes and luxury condos from renters living in shoeboxes on the main drags is a social engineering failure of epic proportions.
Myths and fairy tales
Speaking of planning disasters, a public scoping meeting for the draft environmental impact report on the Downtown Specific Plan will be held at the East Room of the Civic Auditorium, Thursday, Oct. 3 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Hear bogus theories about social equality and “no net new car trips” for yourself and you’ll know why residents are becoming increasingly upset.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.