DOWNTOWN — Whether it’s the 1940s era courtyard apartments in Sunset Park, the tree canopy north of Montana Avenue, or the cultural diversity in the Pico Neighborhood, residents agree that the defining features of their sections of the city should be preserved, no matter what changes the future might bring.
Hearing the message, City Hall on Tuesday held a community workshop dedicated specifically to the conservation of neighborhoods, which geographically make up about 94 percent of Santa Monica. The meeting was part of a series on the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE), which is the update to the city’s general plan and will dictate development in Santa Monica for the next 20 years or more.
Unlike prior LUCE meetings where attendees were randomly assigned to groups during breakout sessions, residents this time split up according to their neighborhoods, discussing the issues of Sunset Park, Ocean Park, Wilshire-Montana, Pico, Mid-City and North of Montana.
They were asked to identify the attributes of their neighborhoods and address the challenges they face. City officials said the Land Use and Circulation Element will seek to preserve the unique characteristics that define each community, whether it be through policy changes or perhaps more stringent regulations when it concerns demolition.
“People are concerned about the demolition of existing homes and the loss of units to other kinds of development,” Daniel Iacofano, a city consultant and urban planner from MIG, said.
While there are common problems that overlap with neighborhoods, such as traffic and parking, each come with its unique set of challenges, whether it’s preserving the tree canopy north of Montana Avenue where City Hall last year proposed removing structurally deficient carob trees, the loss of affordable housing in the Mid-City, or development in Wilshire-Montana.
Demolition has been an issue in Sunset Park, where residents have expressed concern over the loss of affordable housing and courtyard style apartments.
The neighborhood is unique for its diverse collection of single-family homes and apartment buildings that were built for workers of the Douglas Aircraft Company in the 1940s, said Zina Josephs, the president of Friends of Sunset Park.
The neighborhood is also considered walkable, with schools, restaurants and retail within reach.
Congestion has also been identified as a challenge in Sunset Park, along with traffic caused by Santa Monica College and pollution and noise from Santa Monica Airport.
In the Pico Neighborhood, it’s all about keeping the diversity of its residents, both culturally and economically.
Yolanda De Cordova has lived in the Pico Neighborhood for nearly 13 years, though she has worked in the area for roughly two dozen, including the last several at the Pico Youth and Family Center as its office manager. She said the neighborhood attributes have been impacted over the decades with the construction of the I-10 Freeway.
She said one of the biggest challenges facing the neighborhood is the presence of buses.
“We are starting to see larger buses,” she said.
The Pico Neighborhood Association has also raised concerns over the proposal by the Exposition Construction Authority to place a maintenance yard at the Verizon lot, which is located near homes.
Neighborhood conservation could come in various forms, including changes in development standards to address issues with scale and size and a policy that would better manage the pace and type of changes that take place. One possible measure could be to create conservation overlay districts, which would sit on top of preexisting zones but have a special set of regulations that also apply.
Another solution could be to adopt regulations requiring that before a demolition permit is granted, the building’s contribution to the neighborhood be evaluated.
Some cities in the state have taken similar actions to preserve their neighborhoods, including in Santa Cruz, which has six overlay districts, one of which requires that buildings be evaluated before a demolition application is approved.
In Ocean Park, residents point to the diverse collection of California bungalows and apartment buildings as one of the most interesting features.
“We have single-family homes and a lot of apartments,” Mary Marlow, the chairman of the Ocean Park association, said. “It’s not like we have just one style.”
Perhaps the most sensitive issue in the neighborhood is the new development that has taken place over the past decade, specifically on Main Street where several mixed-use projects have been built.
“Scale is definitely the most important,” Marlow said. “Along the beach the little houses are being torn down and everything is being built to the max.”