Dear Mayor Bloom, City Council members and City Manager Rod Gould,
We are writing to you with our views concerning a new planning director. This position is of critical importance to our city. The new planning director will need an in-depth understanding of the policies and actions embedded in the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE), and must have the ability to work well with the planning department and our community to attain and enforce them.
Like our current, well-respected planning director, we believe that the next person in this position must embody the highest planning principles espoused by the American Planning Association — that the planning process must “pursue and faithfully serve the public interest.” And, he/she also must conscientiously uphold our city’s own planning mission statement: “Our mission is to create a better community for the people of Santa Monica” and “to enhance and maintain Santa Monica’s environment while ensuring a high quality of life for the community.”
During the lengthy LUCE process, current Planning Director Eileen Fogarty embodied these principles. She respected and strengthened the rights of citizens to participate meaningfully in long- and short-range planning decisions; she strove to give citizens full, clear, accurate and timely information on planning issues; she articulated policies and actions that would best serve the entire community in the face of large private developer interests; and she paid particular attention to the inter-relatedness of decisions and the long-range consequences of present actions. All of these principles are in service of the public interest, not private resume-building.
These principles all can be found on the Planning Department’s website, but under Ms. Fogarty’s leadership these were not mere words. She put these principles into action, which enabled residents to place more confidence in the Planning Department than had previously been the case.
Our city is now at a critical juncture. The last remaining underdeveloped land in the industrial area of Santa Monica is being targeted for over a dozen large-scale developments, the largest of which is almost 1,000,000 square feet. These projects are all sited in the same traffic-clogged area of our city that is “serviced” by the 26th Street off-ramp of the I-10 Freeway; an off ramp that currently is at functional collapse. Never has the issue of inter-relatedness of the environmental impacts of these projects and the long-range consequences been more significant. Recognizing this, City Hall has partnered with HUD and TOD to do a Master Plan for this entire area.
It will be the responsibility of our new planning director to oversee an intelligent Master Plan with specific area plans that require adequate infrastructure to support new development; to understand and enforce the LUCE development standards; and to ensure that any zoning code revisions meet the LUCE goals of protecting neighborhoods and residents from encroaching development, reducing traffic by integrating transportation and land use, and creating a sustainable city with safe streets and open space.
As an essential part of that process, he or she must be committed to continuing to give residents a meaningful role in the development of projects and planning that will impact their daily lives and not give sway to special interests. And our next planning director must plan for a livable city, not a city planned by developers; promote a healthy, sustainable community, which includes reduced traffic congestion, the creation of more walkable and bikeable neighborhoods (especially in this last industrial lands part of Santa Monica) and the promotion of green building and renewable energy.
In addition, he or she needs to secure adequate economic and social studies of the true economic and environmental impacts of the large-scale commercial developments that are in the pipeline. Too often in the past, only the revenue supposedly generated by large new developments has been studied (with wildly unsubstantiated assumptions), not their real environmental and social costs and irreversible consequences.
Finally, Santa Monica has active, informed groups and associations, including newly revived neighborhood associations. The leaders of all of these groups should be participants in the selection process (as was the case when Ms. Fogarty was selected).
Signed: Victor Fresco, Diana Gordon, Sherrill Kushner, Susan Giesberg, Jeff Segal (Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City Steering Committee); Santa Monica Neighborhood Groups: Friends of Sunset Park Board of Directors, Mid-City Neighbors Board of Directors, Pico Neighborhood Association, Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City.