CITY HALL — The last five years in Santa Monica have been a time of great change for the direction of the city in terms of development and planning.
After years of work, the ground breaking Land Use and Circulation Element — called the LUCE — was formally adopted, paving the way for the next two decades of growth in Santa Monica’s 8.3 square miles.
The next five years, leading up to the coming of the Expo Light Rail line and the implementation of the LUCE, look to be just as influential.
With that on the horizon and a number of developments already in the pipeline, it could either be a great boon or a terrible misfortune to see a changing of the guard on one of City Hall’s most influential bodies — the Planning Commission.
While not on most residents’ radars, the commission plays an important role as an advisory committee to the City Council on everything pertaining to physical development within the city, said City Manager Rod Gould.
“The Planning Commission is the primary advisory body in changes to the physical environment of Santa Monica,” Gould said. “Other boards and commissions have some say in some aspects of development and redevelopment, but the Planning Commission is the last stop before the council decides, and further exercises its own authority to approve certain land use changes in town.”
It is, he said, a “very powerful body.”
The public needs commissioners that know the LUCE inside and out and can keep an eye on the big picture, said Gregg Heacock, president of neighborhood association Mid-City Neighbors.
“The Planning Commission should have that overview,” Heacock said. “How is this going to be part of the fabric of a city that lives and breathes and has to function in a healthy manner.”
The commission could see as many as four new members, with one vacancy to fill and three members — Jason Parry, Ted Winterer and Chair Jim Ries — up for reappointment. Traditionally, sitting members have been reappointed by the City Council, but nothing is certain.
As of this writing, nine candidates have thrown their names into the ring, each representing a wide range of skill sets from the practical — land use law — to the applicable, like the candidate who is also a former mayor.
Below is a summary of candidates and their positions, listed in order of earliest application date to latest. Full applications can be found at smgov.net under “Boards and Commissions.”
Alan Lipsky is a financial consultant, who has served on Los Angeles’ Metro Transit Authority and the Pier Restoration Corp.
His work on public commissions has involved Lipsky in a number of real estate and civic development issues, which he feels would be similar to those he would face on the planning commission.
“I’m pragmatic in my approach,” Lipsky said. “I believe in some balance of development and lifestyle. I think that as a Planning Commission member, they expect me to be fair, a hard worker, responsive to the public and responsive to applicants.”
Tom Cleys, currently a member of the Urban Forest Task Force, approaches planning and land use through a preservationist’s eyes.
“I am particularly concerned about having high quality, well-designed development where it is to occur, controlling and reducing traffic congestion in impacted areas of the city, reserving diversity in our city and integrating historic preservation into the planning process,” Cleys wrote in his application.
Cleys has experience on the board of Friends of Sunset Park and in his professional life in real estate development, with a master’s degree in the subject from USC and membership in the Urban Land Institute.
Robert Gardner, a 34-year resident of Santa Monica, also has a background in real estate. As the managing director of the real estate consulting firm RCLCO, he looks at the feasibility of projects from an economic standpoint, and also works with redevelopment agencies to move public projects along.
“I work with developers every day, and I’m familiar with the issues that they have,” Gardner said. “I think that the combination of that background is something that would be a complement to the skill sets that are on the Planning Commission right now.”
Gardner has also served on the board of directors of the Community Corporation of Santa Monica, a nonprofit that helps secure low-income housing in the city.
Albin Gielicz is currently a member of the Social Services Commission and heavily involved in the Wilmont and North of Montana neighborhood groups.
In those roles, he has dealt with public process and seen developments come up for consideration and move through the pipeline.
He believes that change is good, as long as it’s the right change that pays deference to the LUCE and plays by the rules of development agreements, which haven’t been enforced to the utmost.
“We can go from great to greater,” Gielicz said.
Jodi Summers, a real estate broker, sees the Planning Commission role as an opportunity to foster better transit and implement green construction practices.
She feels that Santa Monica needs to take a good, long look at the level of development happening in the city, and that it needs to be balanced with mitigation measures to make sure traffic doesn’t overwhelm the city.
“The amount of construction that’s going on is a little premature,” Summers said.
Leo A. Savoie, a general contractor, puts environmentally-friendly policy at the top of his agenda.
“We moved to Santa Monica in 2007, and I am interested in the eclectic planning and diversity that Santa Monica has developed over the years, and especially the green initiatives being adopted by the current administration, and the state of California,” Savoie wrote in his application.
He served as a planning commissioner in Walkerton, Ind. for eight years.
Former Santa Monica mayor Paul Rosenstein applied to provide what he hopes is a “slow, careful, thoughtful approach to development.”
Recent approaches seem more like over-development to get a financial quick-fix, Rosenstein said.
“My concern is that if we just develop too much, we’ll cook the golden goose,” Rosenstein said.
Corin Kahn, a land use attorney by trade, hopes to use his expertise to help reach “balanced, intelligent decisions consistent with the LUCE.”
He described development as both a scourge and an opportunity, depending on how the projects work with the character of Santa Monica.
“I think having the land use background as an attorney will help the city focus laser-sharp in terms of benefits and project impacts on the community,” Kahn said.
Elan Glasser, a wine consultant and independent filmmaker, wants to get involved with the commission to push forward policies that will improve traffic conditions and public transportation, and keep a check on the pace and scale of development.
“I’m not 100 percent against development, or 100 percent for it,” he said. “I think a balanced approach is what’s needed. We need to look at the little picture in terms of each project, and at the bigger picture to see how they all fit together.”
Glasser also favors additional enforcement mechanisms to get developers to abide by the development agreements already in place, as well as those to come.
Appointments to the Planning Commission are scheduled to be made by the City Council Aug. 23.
Commissioners receive $40.47 a meeting with a cap of $100 a month, according to the City Clerk’s Office.