Downtown Santa Monica (File photo)
Downtown Santa Monica (File photo)

A friend told me last weekend that the new, mostly young people moving to Santa Monica are probably less critical of what’s going on than many of us who’ve lived here for 20, 30 years or longer.

“They have no frame of reference. To them, everything is new and taken for what it is, not what is was. Because they’ve chosen to come here, they obviously like what they see,” he said. “The young and the new aren’t complaining about development or high rises — it’s the older residents. You see traffic jammed streets and hordes of tourists. It doesn’t bother them. They like the excitement and energy.

“Where you see stacks of ugly apartments, they see new, modern, efficient homes. The younger, working people coming here like living where they can walk, bicycle or climb on a bus to get to work, shopping, school, a favorite eatery or entertainment venue.”

He continued: “Add great weather, the beach and regional amenities such as professional sports teams and Los Angeles’ cultural, educational and recreational opportunities — it’s why Santa Monica is paradise.”

Us “old-timers” lament the loss of the laid-back lifestyle and favorite haunts such as the Fireside Market, Norms, Bob Burns Restaurant, Shakey’s Pizza, Pacific Ocean Park, The Wilshire, Mayfair and Criterion Theaters, Woolworths, the Downtown post office, the ‘old’ Santa Monica Place and numerous book stores, gas stations and car repair shops that are gone, to name a few.

But, will any of us really miss the weed-strewn lot with the rat-infested huts and rusting storage containers at Ninth Street and Broadway? Isn’t the new, five-floor, 97 unit, Luxe Apartments a better alternative?

Is the now-closed Norm’s restaurant at Lincoln Boulevard and Colorado Avenue preferable to the five-floor, 100 unit, mixed-use apartment building planned for the site? How about the cookie cutter apartment building proposed for the AMF Bay Shore Lanes bowling alley property at 234 Pico Blvd.?

What’s the alternative for the closed Paper Mate site at Olympic Boulevard and 26th Street?

A draft environmental impact report released last week examines the latest version of the much maligned Bergamot Transit Village Center (BTVC) from Texas mega-developer Hines. The developer proposes five buildings. Maximum height would be 81 feet. The development has a total of 766,094 square feet of space including creative office space, a residential complex and retail/restaurant space.

The 7.1-acre site would include nearly two acres of open space along with underground parking for 1930 cars and 931 bicycles. Nebraska Avenue would extend from Stewart Street to 26th Street. Two new streets would transect the site from Nebraska to Olympic where two additional traffic signals would be added (to congest Olympic traffic even more).

Hines has “announced their intention to pursue the Residential Project Alternative that was studied in Chapter 6 of the EIR,” notes the staff report that accompanies the draft EIR. The alternative proposal would have the same overall square footage but consist of less office space (374,423 square feet in two buildings) and less retail/restaurant space (29,391 square feet)

The alternative version contains much more housing (363,095 square feet or 498 apartments in three buildings) as opposed to 224,272 square feet (325 units) in two buildings per the original revision. An unspecified number of low income apartments are included. Subterranean parking for between 1,900 and 2,100 cars would still be provided along with bicycle parking and 2.05 acres of open space. The 9,648 page draft EIR is available on the city website.

One problem is that the majority of the housing units in all of these projects are compact studios or one bedrooms. Two bedroom units are unusual and three bedroom units are as rare as unicorns. Nevertheless, the projected 948 new Santa Monicans living in BTVC will love their new homes and probably not miss my long gone favorite places or streets that were once much less congested.

While I and others have criticized City Hall’s development philosophy of shoehorning tiny apartments together in crowded complexes, BTVC residents will probably be “OK” with it — just as I didn’t mind living with a roommate in a cramped, no-amenity, one bedroom apartment in Brentwood as a UCLA graduate student.

Similarly, the dense East Village development replacing the Village Trailer Park in the 2900 block of Colorado Avenue will feel downright comfortable to those who chose to live there — even through it too reminds me of my crowded and uncomfortable student digs in Brentwood and in Westwood Village before that.

Looking into my crystal ball, I see major developments of a similar nature all along the Wilshire corridor in the decades ahead as the purple line or “Subway to the Sea” becomes a reality. Property values will soar and there will be great demand for taller and denser developments and they will be built.

There’ll be more pressure on the Downtown area. Despite protestations, more and bigger high rises will come as the number of “opportunity sites” will expand over time. Expect major changes along the Pico and Lincoln corridors as land values and bus lines combine to make them way overdue for major redevelopment. And, Santa Monica Airport land? The sky’s the limit.

Are dark days coming or does the future look bright and exciting? It depends on your point of view.

Development is in our future. The challenge is how to control it, yet still preserve some semblance of what Santa Monica was.





Bill can be reached at

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