CITY HALL — For City Hall planners, it’s time for a toast.
Having worked for more than four years on the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) — a general plan update that will govern development in Santa Monica over the next 25 years — they’re billing the final two workshops on the voluminous document as a time for community members to celebrate the accomplishment, and to “see how your ideas have shaped the vision for the city’s future.”
The first workshop is scheduled for tonight at Lincoln Middle School, with another planned for later this month.
While planners are confident their draft version of the LUCE will move smoothly to the Planning Commission and then to the City Council for final approval this summer, not everyone is ready to raise a glass to the plan.
Comments on the environmental study that accompanied the LUCE from neighborhood groups and organizations like Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights criticized the plan for being too lenient toward developers and for favoring commercial projects over housing.
Gregg Heacock, a local activist who is leading the effort to re-establish a Mid-City neighborhood group, said concerns about LUCE and the amount of commercial development it would permit remain.
He said residents aren’t convinced that development agreements, which typically allow builders to construct extra square footage in exchange for providing “community benefits” like affordable housing and open space, are in their best interest. Development agreements are a key part of City Hall’s oversight of new projects under the LUCE.
“What we’re finding is that the community benefits so far have seemed rather bogus or so slight that they absolutely don’t make up for the problems that are inherent when you add more stories to buildings,” he said.
Even more than the content of LUCE, Heacock said residents are concerned about how — and whether — its rules will be enforced.
City Hall recently admitted it had failed to conduct required annual reviews of development agreements and filed a lawsuit against one developer, CSHV Arboretum LLC, alleging the developer failed to live up to its affordable housing commitments.
City Hall officials have said they are re-vamping their development agreement review process and have pledged to hold developers accountable. No plan to do so has yet come before the City Council, and at least one council member, Kevin McKeown, has said the development agreement review process should be codified in LUCE.
Others, like Zina Josephs, president of the group Friends of Sunset Park, believe the document has failed to address their most important concerns altogether.
The tens of thousands of additional car trips that would result from projects allowed under LUCE, Josephs said, would increase congestion on major north/south streets that cut through her neighborhood.
“We find that unacceptable,” she said.
Neighborhood groups aren’t the only ones who see room for improving the LUCE.
Gwynne Pugh, an architect and planning commissioner, said he believes “the major comprises have been made at this point,” though there are tweaks that he would like to see. Architects feel some building size limits are unduly restrictive and will make it difficult to design high quality projects, he said.
He said the fact that no group is entirely pleased with the draft LUCE is in the nature of the public process planners followed to formulate the document.
“This is really the end of a long process. It’s not like there hasn’t been a lot of input all along the line,” he said.
Planning Director Eileen Fogarty said while the workshops are “a celebration of getting to this point,” they’re also an opportunity for members of the public to have their voices heard. With the document almost finalized, she said it’s still important that the community weigh in on whether planners have appropriately addressed concerns raised during the drawn out process.