CIVIC CENTER — Over 160 people attended a packed meeting to determine the future look and feel of Santa Monica’s Downtown, but residents left wondering if their voices were heard or if the conversation had been dominated by developers and industry professionals.
The meeting was the first since July to discuss the Downtown Specific Plan, an effort meant to fill in details about the Downtown that was left out of the 2010 Land Use and Circulation Element, or LUCE, a framework that will dictate development citywide for the next 20 years or more.
That plan, which took almost seven years to complete, gave an outline for development which would be given greater definition by the zoning code update, which is currently in the works.
The Downtown — defined by the LUCE as the area between Lincoln Boulevard to the east, Ocean Avenue to the west, Interstate 10 to the south and slightly above Wilshire Boulevard to the north — was left out entirely except for a number of guiding principles that would lead to the specific plan discussed Wednesday.
Many residents, however, felt that they had walked into a game with trick dice.
After a presentation by consultant Neal Payton espousing the goals of making the Downtown walkable, with wider sidewalks, iconic architecture and a unique feel to the streets, the assembled crowd broke into groups to give their input on how to make that happen.
They were presented with a map of the Downtown and green dots to place in various locations to indicate where additional development, public art or amenities should go.
Kevin Glick, a Santa Monica resident, had an immediate problem.
“There was no red stamp,” Glick said.
There was also no obvious way to tell what each dot meant unless an industrious person scrawled a symbol onto the sticker, as one gentleman did to indicate the need for bicycle amenities near the existing bike center on Colorado Avenue.
Much of the conversation focused on what residents would have to be willing to give up in terms of height in order to get open space and beautiful buildings from developers seeking to build in the Downtown.
That felt ambiguous to Glick, who, along with several other residents, wanted to get down to the brass tacks.
“What are we trading?” he asked. “Why are we talking about trading?”
Bill Tucker, a board member of Downtown Santa Monica Inc., the public-private group that manages the Downtown for City Hall, saw that conflict in his group.
“Some felt that they should not have to trade off for height,” Tucker said.
For his part, Tucker is looking for a “reasonable” amount of growth that enhances what’s in the Downtown already.
“We have to be evolving,” he said.
Although some were willing to accept that concept, hackles were raised by the number of industry professionals that flocked to the meeting.
A review of the sign-in sheet showed roughly 40 of the 160 people who put their name to paper either owned property in the Downtown, were architects, land-use attorneys, real estate professionals or representatives of companies known to be looking to develop Downtown, like NMS Properties, AMC Theatres and the owners of the Holiday Inn.
Eight others put down no identifying information beyond their names.
Alan Epstein, an executive with MSD Capital, which is trying to renovate the Fairmont Miramar Hotel, said that representatives of the Miramar came because the 85-year-old hotel has a stake in the future of Downtown.
“We worked with the city and the community for six years for the LUCE amendments,” Epstein said. “We’ve been a stakeholder in the city for a long time.”
Although he could not speak for other industry folks that came to the meeting, the Miramar representatives were there to see that the elements identified for the Downtown in the LUCE made it through to the specific plan, Epstein said.
“The LUCE was carefully crafted,” Epstein said. “It was important to me that the specific plan reflect that.”
The heavy concentration of industry professionals concerned Steve Duron, an attorney and former City Council candidate, who felt the deck was stacked.
Was the community voice heard?
“I’m not sure,” Duron said. “The vote is still out.”