SM CHAMBER — Despite seven years of work on City Hall’s general plan update and a summertime deadline to approve a final version of the document, some of the toughest decisions remain to be made.
As the Chamber of Commerce’s latest comments on the Land Use and Circulation Element make clear, despite many compromises, there’s still a disagreement between business interests and those less friendly to commercial growth when it comes to rules about residential versus office construction.
While those on both sides of the discussion emphasize there’s much in the sprawling LUCE they agree on, key details that will affect the balance between housing and jobs in Santa Monica remain undecided as the Planning Commission begins a final series of discussions about the document. Following the commission’s meetings, the LUCE will be before the City Council for approval in June.
In a letter to the Planning Commission this week on behalf of the chamber, attorney Chris Harding argued “the LUCE should clearly state that commercial uses are allowed above the first floor” in mixed-use projects, a position contrary to the stance adopted by the influential local political party Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights last month.
In a meeting to update its platform April 25, SMRR asserted that in order to protect existing residential neighborhoods while increasing the city’s housing stock, only residential space should be allowed in mixed-use projects above ground-level retail.
SMRR chairperson Patricia Hoffman put it bluntly: “We’re for housing. They’re for jobs.”
Others strike a more conciliatory tone, but it’s clear that finalizing the LUCE will involve a lot more than simply applying a rubber stamp.
“I think on the whole, all parties involved think that the LUCE is a great step forward, but there are substantial differences of opinion around several critical issues,” said Planning Commissioner Ted Winterer.
“Balancing jobs and housing in the LUCE is going to be one of the most important issues that we’re discussing,” added Planning Commissioner Jason Parry.
The commission held its first of four meetings on the LUCE Thursday night.
For his part, Harding portrayed the chamber’s comments on the LUCE as uncontroversial and focusing on the “finer points” of the document.
As to SMRR’s recently adopted position in favor of banning commercial space above the first floor on mixed-use projects, Harding said “we don’t think the people who have proposed that have thought it through.”
Such a prohibition, he said, would mean small professional firms would be “effectively zoned out of the city.”
A centerpiece of the LUCE for many neighborhood preservationists is the idea of encouraging residential growth along the major boulevards to add to the housing stock while limiting redevelopment in existing residential zones.
In general, Harding said the chamber supports that goal.
“I’m not expecting a fight with SMRR at all,” he said.
While a majority of SMRR’s most devoted members appear to favor the strict upper-level ban on commercial space, there’s no consensus on the idea.
Mayor Pro Tem O’Connor, for one, a SMRR-backed council member, said on Friday she believes allowing office space above the ground floor could be compatible with the overall vision contained in the LUCE.
She criticized SMRR’s recently adopted platform for straying from general principles to contain “prescriptive implementations,” like support for the upper-level commercial space ban.
The chamber is also pushing for more lenient height limitations on new projects.
In his letter, Harding called the draft LUCE’s height limits “not technically sound” and in need of revision “to accommodate reasonable floor-to-floor heights, especially at the ground floor.”
Instead of a 75-foot height limit for projects in the Bergamot Transit Village, the chamber proposes a limit of 86 feet. For mixed-use buildings on major boulevards, it says the height limit should be 65 feet instead of the 55-foot limit proposed in the draft LUCE.