Are we NIMBYs? Are we actually “no growth?”
Speaking for myself, I have to say at this point ‚Äî maybe.
Some admit, proudly but with thoughtfulness, that if being against this or that bad project is being a NIMBY, then so be it. Not (that too-dense, no green space, not enough parking, no water, traffic-snarling tower) In My Back Yard, thank you. Put it next to the Staples Center.
I have not yet heard anyone admit to being No Growth. Slow growth, reasonable growth, appropriate, sustainable, selective growth, but No Growth is hard to defend.
But if citizens are rising up and opposing every single project for building in Santa Monica, what is that?
Some of the local cadre recruited by developers say it‚Äôs unrealistic to oppose development. They cite studies showing irresistible growth patterns. Take your head out of the sand, join the 21st century, this isn‚Äôt a sleepy little beach town anymore and hasn‚Äôt been for decades. And we need the money.
True, to some degree, in general and in principle. Wrong on specifics.
This is Santa Monica. Not the Santa Monica of 50, 100 or even 20 years ago, but not West LA either, not Newport Beach or Long Beach.
No one‚Äôs trying to go back in time, but we are looking at even five years ago – and most importantly, looking at where we will be five years from now if all these projects get built – and saying, declaring with angry resolve, enough is enough.
Enough is too much, already. I had the occasion recently to park in structure #5 near 4th Street and Broadway, wound up near the top, and strolled over to the edge to enjoy the view. I love that handsome brown long-brick building below on 4th, with the light blue statuettes lined up across the top.
But as I looked up and around, getting a pretty good view of downtown from there, I was struck: it‚Äôs enough. It‚Äôs already enough. We already have lots of tall buildings, too many of them just unattractive boxes, jammed together, pushing out to the sidewalks, casting shadows. I recommend you go look for yourself, go to the top, see how it hits you. Do you see a downtown Santa Monica begging for more tall, wide buildings?
Where are the parks? There‚Äôs our striking new Tongva, on the southern edge, but that‚Äôs south of the freeway and almost Main Street. Behind is¬† Palisades Park, our treasure. Then there‚Äôs Reed, a great park but also on the border of what I think of as downtown. So, lots of concrete canyons already, blocking sun and ocean breeze, and no green at all except at the edges.
Does that mean we need a park and only a park at 4th/5th Arizona? Not necessarily. I would like to see open, at least partly green space on that city property (our city, our land, for our benefit and our children‚Äôs, not for the engorgement of outside developers). But I know we don‚Äôt “need” a 12-story hotel/retail complex, even with the bone of “affordable” housing units thrown in. We can‚Äôt keep bending our own rules and saying yes to inappropriate projects because the developer offers housing or the hotel condescends to union wages. And we are not that bad off financially here, and can develop other revenue sources than selling off our finite land, sunshine and cool ocean air.
We can do better than that. We‚Äôre Santa Monica. We‚Äôre unique, we‚Äôre in demand, we‚Äôre a sellers‚Äô market. And we the people should be calling the shots.
Gentrification in Santa Monica does seem inevitable. That‚Äôs behind it all, all these issues we‚Äôre dealing with. We‚Äôre getting hit on all sides with the power of money. Big money. Outside money. We do live in a capitalist society with property rights. But no rights are unfettered. You can‚Äôt yell “fire!” in a crowded theater. And we, the citizens of our town, have the right to demand, hopefully through our representatives, certain reasonable things, even if it takes zoning or law changes, even if it takes initiatives or recalls.
I went to the Pico Neighborhood Association meeting last week and felt like I was witnessing the rumblings of a revolution. The particular issue was a proposed 21-unit luxury condo project that would displace people from their homes, their rent-controlled apartments there. Every part of Santa Monica has something like this coming in, and people are informing themselves and taking action.
But there were 10 or 12 different groups represented at that packed meeting, lawyers and policy wonks and activists of many stripes, joining the locals and addressing their issue and related ones in a way that felt different. It seemed like most understood that it‚Äôs all the same issue, money versus people, and that what affects one part of town affects us all. Kind of the opposite of the narrow focus of NIMBY, wouldn‚Äôt you say? A true citizens united. Not in their or your or my backyard, if it‚Äôs part of the Santa Monica we all feel a responsibility to.
It‚Äôs easy to paint the forces opposing the kind of development we‚Äôre facing now as being unreasonable, provincial, behind the times. Santa Monica is part of a larger area and must act responsibly, right?
Yes, we must act responsibly. The people in that larger area, and in fact from all over the world, have always wanted to be able to escape to a Santa Monica that‚Äôs different from its surrounding metropolis. Once we‚Äôve acquiesced to the kind of projects being given a pass by too many in our city government now, there will be no more Santa Monica. Who‚Äôs going to care about hanging out in West West LA? It‚Äôs actually progressive and forward thinking to not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.
No Growth? For now, yes. Let‚Äôs assess where we are, our water and infrastructure demands, let‚Äôs see what the light rail really brings. Then there will be plenty of time and money to move forward in a responsible way.
AND! ‚Äî Don‚Äôt forget to look for the free live music all over Santa Monica this Saturday, June 21, World Music Day. Next year, let‚Äôs make it an even bigger event.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 28 years and wouldn‚Äôt live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org