Santa Monica is a home first and foremost for its residents, a home with beaches, open skies, sun, ocean breezes and a strong sense of community. Santa Monica is also a destination for those who come to work, vacation or play in our beach town. As Santa Monica continues to evolve, there is a need to maintain the delicate balance among the residents, businesses and tourists in a way that allows the city to flourish while preserving the quality of life that has attracted so many.
This column is being written by renters and homeowners from all corners of the city. It is dedicated to insuring that the voices and concerns of residents are at the forefront of the decisions being made by our City Council.
The group consists of:
Ellen Brennan: retired stockbroker, former board member and chair of the Pier Restoration Corporation, lifelong writer and activist. Ellen is a renter in South Beach.
Tricia Crane: writer, children’s advocate, founder of Save Our Playgrounds, and a former chair of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Special Education District Advisory Committee. Tricia is a homeowner in northeast Santa Monica.
Zina Josephs: retired school teacher, a current member of the SMMUSD District Advisory Committee on the Visual and Performing Arts, and a former Santa Monica Arts Commissioner. Zina is a homeowner in Sunset Park.
Armen Melkonians: civil and environmental engineer and a grassroots advocate for resident democracy. Armen is a resident of the Wilshire-Montana Neighborhood and a renter.
Trust is essential for democracy. In a representative democracy the people have to be able to trust their elected representatives. The lower the level of political trust, the greater the need citizens feel to take direct action. We are a group of Santa Monica residents who are engaged in such action and we are committed to exposing the widening gap between the promises made by the majority of our elected representatives and the actions they are taking, actions that degrade the quality of life in our town. We are not the only residents who see this gap and feel distrustful. Many residents share our concerns and worry about the future of this community we love.
As resident concerns and interests have taken a back seat to developer and business interests, the residents have noticed. As bigger and taller buildings are planned and built, the residents have noticed. As traffic jams have become more frequent, the residents have noticed. As it has become increasingly harder to park, the residents have noticed. As jets using Santa Monica Airport have continued to land and take off directly over homes (more than 13,000 jet operations in 2011), residents have noticed.
City Hall has been promising that bigger and taller will somehow make our town better. They tell us these new developments will come with “community benefits.” They tell us the planned residential, commercial and retail developments will somehow not add to traffic jams and increase parking woes.
But residents see the quality of life diminishing as City Hall’s paid experts and consultants trot out plans for increased density. Tiny new 400-square-foot apartments, which rent for $1,800 a month, are presented as “affordable housing.” Combine that with plans for 20-plus story buildings in our Downtown, gridlocked streets and unsafe bike paths and you end up with a developer driven vision of Santa Monica that residents do not trust.
Trust is the cornerstone of any successful relationship, including the one between city officials and their constituents. Trust is built when the citizens are part of the democratic process and their voices and concerns are not only listened to, but honored. Unfortunately, while Planning Department staff have agreed to meet with residents on a regular basis to hear their requests, these meetings are a hollow gesture when compared with regular meetings city staff have held within a working partnership (The Alliance) that includes leaders of the Chamber of Commerce and development teams. These meetings have been going on for three years.
Angry citizens have increasingly voiced their frustration at public meetings and in the press about the favoring of developers over residents, prompting discussion of a lack of public trust at the City Council hearing of June 11. Councilmember Gleam Davis said she was aware of the erosion of trust in the community. Davis used a metaphor that she had introduced earlier in the year to refer to the 35 development agreements moving through the city planning pipeline. She compared the mass of development agreements to a rat being digested by a snake, which is the city.
In early June she revisited the snake and rat metaphor. “The problem we have,” she said, “is that by delaying all these projects all we are doing is giving time to grow another rat outside the snake. It isn’t going to make development go away.”
It seems that while we once had a golden city by the sea — the envy of all — we are now living in a place where snakes eat rats. No wonder there is a lack of trust. Who in their right mind would trust a snake, especially one that is eating our town?
Armen Melkonians and Tricia Crane compiled this column. The authors of Our Town can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org