Christopher Harding is one of Santa Monica’s most successful lawyers. His developer, auto dealer and real estate clients have made Chris a wealthy and powerful man in the community and his law firm the “go-to” place for land use issues.
On July 1 (Your column here, Pg 4), Harding wrote a guest column in this paper “Just the facts, guys” claiming, “Bill misstates the positions taken by the (Santa Monica) Chamber of Commerce … and others,” referring to my June 28 column, “LUCE as a goose” about the update to the city’s general plan called the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE).
In a personal and vindictive attack, Harding stated that I “persistently misstate the facts, grossly exaggerate differences of opinion and attack the character or motives of those with different points of view.” He used points from my column as examples of how I was supposedly wrong on almost everything.
Let’s examine just some of Harding’s “facts” and why he’s the one who’s in error.
Auto Dealerships: I’d written that business interests (meaning in part, members of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce) wanted “parts of Lincoln Boulevard between Wilshire and Interstate-10 to be re-zoned for car dealerships.” Chris retorted that it was already zoned for auto dealerships.
Harding is comparing apples to oranges by referring to the old 1984 General Plan, not the draft LUCE which would severely restrict where auto dealerships could do business including on Lincoln Boulevard which I was referencing.
Doubling Residential: He wrote, “Bill further states that ‘business interests and developers are also asking for increased floor areas in new buildings.’ This, too, is demonstrably false … The chamber has, along with Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, supported consideration of floor area discounts for housing in certain areas as an important tool for addressing the city’s imbalance between housing and jobs. But neither the chamber nor SMRR has suggested that such a tool should be used to increase overall densities.
Yet, in his “COC Recommended Changes” (June 10, Pg. 4, D), Harding states, “The Chamber and SMRR agree that the draft LUCE should consider the use of floor area discounts ….”
Harding knows “floor area discounts” operate as a 50 percent bonus, meaning that the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) is doubled for residential housing if the discount is used. This would essentially double the square footage of any new residential allowed. He also completely misrepresented Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights position on doubling housing FARs.
SMRR Co-Chair Patricia Hoffman swiftly refuted it in an e-mail to City Council: “I see that there is still a misunderstanding about SMRR’s position on incentives for affordable housing … We do not need to use the old method of discounts to incentivize affordable housing.”
Height Limits: Harding’s claims that “virtually every significant practicing architect in Santa Monica supports the Planning Commissions recommended 2 – 6 additional feet…” are totally unsubstantiated and meaningless.
Last Minute Changes: “And Bill gets it wrong again when he labels this recommendation ‘last minute’ — the architects and the Chamber have been raising this issue for more than two years,” he opined. Harding waited until early May to start his fusillade of memos and “COC Recommended Changes" on LUCE — which he’s actually admitted were both “fundamental” and “very late." And, “Much of it is new to us,” city Planning Director Eileen Fogarty e-mailed me.
Harding knew that many Chamber recommendations would anger residents. It appears he shortcut the lengthy LUCE vetting process by jumping directly to the finish line. The strategy paid off because four City Council members gave Harding, his clients and the Chamber, what they wanted and more. He’s just upset because he’s been called out on it.
Although his “guest column” was ostensibly about LUCE, Harding couldn’t resist taking a cheap shot at me for alleged "misstatements in previous columns about our public schools” and “baseless attacks on our school district.” Of course, Harding is off base here, too.
Bottom Line: Harding is “lawyering” us. When not comparing apples to oranges, he’s distorting the facts, omitting key points, misrepresenting other peoples’ positions, telling half-truths and fantasizing about what architects support. He’s probably even bad-mouthing my red Chuck Taylors.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.