I attended a meeting of the Northeast Neighbors (NN) last Monday evening. Everyone in the packed Montana Avenue Library community room was angry.

Angry about the larger developments being encouraged under the recently adopted Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) along Wilshire Boulevard. Angry about the truly hideous, five-floor, mixed use project proposed for 2919-23 Wilshire Blvd. (Jerry’s Liquor). And, angry about the expanding number of “outsider” vehicles occupying neighborhood parking spaces.

The folks living between Wilshire and Montana and 22nd Street and Centinela Avenue complained that the kinds of community benefits called out in the LUCE and required for new developments don’t really benefit their neighborhood. They’re right. Benefits are mostly channeled to general community improvements including affordable housing; bicycling, pedestrian and bus amenities; day care centers; etc.

Neighbors were most upset about the growing street parking shortage. Non-residents looking for free parking such as people working or shopping along Wilshire — at Whole Foods and St. John’s Health Center, for example — are encroaching deeper into single-family neighborhoods.

Attendees told city planners that size, density and insufficient parking standards under consideration for future Wilshire development will exacerbate neighborhood traffic and parking issues. Decoupling on-site parking from apartments and condos would mean even less on-street parking.

After the meeting, I chatted with neighbors and noted the prime community benefit is more and more housing. It, especially affordable housing, is driving the demand for development. This means larger developments, more people, more cars, more traffic and increased parking demand. I called it the proverbial elephant in the refrigerator that everyone pretends doesn’t exist including planning staff, slow-growth council persons and planning commissioners alike.

My neighbor’s response: “Oh, we can’t go there. That’s politically incorrect.” But, if we don’t “go there,” our neighborhoods will suffer as a result of policies that’ll contribute to a poorer “quality of life” for residents. Nothing should be off the table — especially that which is a major factor in the city’s accelerating growth rate.

“City Hall doesn’t listen to us,” neighbors said over and over. Right, again. Unfortunately, the idealized, ill-advised fixes City Hall offers will, in reality, make things much worse.


The handwriting’s on the walls


I’m really enthusiastic about the work of a group of everyday citizens who call themselves Beautify Lincoln. Led by Evan Meyer, a board member for the Ocean Park Neighborhood Association, the group is “spearheading a grassroots urban improvement and streetscape beautification project primarily through art, in the form of murals designed by local luminaries and painted by the artists, myself, and other motivated volunteers.”

Evan and his team have contacted commercial property owners and offered to beautify local businesses for free. They coordinate wall space with artists, obtain the paint and supplies and get the work done.

It’s a great idea — initiated by local citizens not the government. In fact, City Hall has been conspicuously absent from this project. Maybe that’s why it’s working so darned well. My hat is off, way off, to all those involved.

Beautify Lincoln has already been recognized by one of the world’s major “street art” websites. Melroseandfairfax.blogspot.com posted, “The project is win/win/win because the community looks better, the walls are free to the businesses (which they love), and the artists love the exposure. We also dig that Meyer calls the streets, ‘the best gallery in the world.'”

Congratulations to Evan, his team, Naylor Paints in Venice and forward thinking, community-minded businesses and property owners on Lincoln Boulevard. Go to www.beautifylincoln.com for more information.


Time for a ‘time out’


Council members Kevin McKeown, Tony Vazquez and Ted Winterer have placed an item on Tuesday night’s council agenda that would put further action on three high-rise projects proposed for Downtown Santa Monica on hold until at least a draft Downtown Specific Plan (DSP) is approved.

City staff is recommending establishing key Downtown locations called “opportunity sites” that would provide substantial leeway in development standards including much taller buildings than permitted by present code.

Among the more controversial projects announced are a 21-floor tower proposed for the renovated Fairmont-Miramar Hotel at Ocean Avenue and Wilshire and another 22-floor hotel tower designed by noted architect Frank Gehry at Ocean Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard. A third high-rise hotel features a 15-floor tower designed by the Jerde Partnership for FelCor Lodging Trust, owner of the Wyndham Hotel (formerly Holiday Inn) at Ocean and Colorado avenues.

The hysteria generated by the proposed high-rises, says McKeown, “Have created a disruptive distraction that will make it difficult for us residents to be effective in deciding what we really want for all of Downtown.”

McKeown suggests that anything planned over 84 feet tall (which exceeds current zoning codes) should be put on hold so work on the DSP can go forward without the distractions arising out of debate about the three high-rise hotels slated for the area.

“The heated controversies they’ve engendered are making it difficult for the Planning Department to engage the public effectively on the Downtown Specific Plan,” he e-mailed.

A draft DSP would provide a guideline for development standards for the entire Downtown and include possible caps on height and density. The “time out” is a good idea and well worth full council and public support. The council must shut the barn door before all the cows escape.

I said the same last year when a number of proposed projects in the Bergamot area were under consideration before a Bergamot Specific Plan was adopted. Piecemeal planning is bad planning.


Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com.

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