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

Last Wednesday, Nov. 6, the Los Angeles Times featured Santa Monica on Page 1. The “A Bigger Santa Monica” headline screamed across four columns of prime newsprint space.

Usually L.A. Times news articles about run-away development feature Glendale, Hollywood or Anaheim but the news staff finally caught up with Santa Monica.

“More than 30 proposed developments would add nearly 3 million square feet of residential, office and retail space to the famously slow-growth beach city,” news writer Matt Stevens penned.

The article mentioned that there were more than 30 projects in the pipeline but that’s just the larger development agreements and doesn’t count dozens of other smaller, code-compliant developments also in the pipeline. Stevens pointed out that one project, the Bergamot Transit Village Center (along Olympic Boulevard) is projected at more than 700,000 (actually 734,000) square feet.

The article also mentioned all three pending Ocean Avenue hotel complexes including the Fairmont Miramar’s proposed 21 story tower — “the tallest building in the city.”

All the development is happening because of the update to the city’s master plan — a revamped Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) approved by City Council three plus years ago. LUCE is the guideline for development in Santa Monica and provides generous bonuses for developments that have housing and other “community benefits.”

Since then, city planning has existed in a “no man’s land” where future developments are approved because they meet LUCE guidelines. But, without the specific zoning codes regulating aspects such as height and density, the door is wide open for developers to negotiate their best (most profitable) deals with City Hall.

The rush for approval of numerous pending developments — most of them are multi-story, apartment/retail projects — before more restrictive building codes are promulgated is on.

It’s why, in just three years, we could see 3,000 new apartments in town. Of course, none of them will add to traffic and congestion. Cough.

Who’s responsible for all of the development in a city known for slow growth? Try the hierarchy of the Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights political group that’s controlled city politics for the last 34 years.

Six out of seven current councilpersons were endorsed and supported by SMRR. Mayor Pam O’Connor, Mayor Pro Tem Terry O’Day, and council persons Gleam Davis and Bob Holbrook (the only non-SMRR endorsed councilperson on the dais) generally vote pro-development. Councilmen Kevin McKeown, Ted Winterer and Tony Vazquez more often than not insist on more control and “community benefits” on new developments but often stop short at seriously limiting their negative aspects.

Members of the Planning Commission are appointed by a council majority. The commitment to social equality including low-income housing, sustainability mitgations and minimum wage guarantees is the mindset driving virtually every development in Santa Monica.

Architecture, size and density are usually ignored. Projects are approved because their developers have made promises that carry out the political agendas of politicians and bureaucrats alike who run City Hall.

The classic example of this is the East Village development on the site of the Village Trailer Park at 2930 Colorado Ave. In April, after six years of wrangling, City Council approved a massive 341,290-square-foot, mega-development that includes 377 apartments on a 3.8 acre mobile home park site. When the developers finally offered to restrict 38 units for very/extremely low-Income tenants this bloated, sow’s ear of a development was quickly approved.

Density, massing, intensification of use, traffic generation and architectural unattractiveness were ignored by staff and politicians alike who focused instead on low-income housing and remedies for those displaced from the mobile home park. Score one for 38 low-income families who will move here from out of town. Score zero for residents who will deal with this development’s negatives for decades to come.

There’s more to the rush to build rental housing and fulfill the SMRR social and “more voters” agenda. City planners and developers are adding retail shops, restaurants and “neighborhood serving businesses” because new people coming and living here have to shop, eat and be entertained close to home, supposedly so they won’t have to drive.

It’s a schizophrenic planning policy that extends from SMRR through City Council, the Planning Commission and political appointees to various boards and task forces. City Hall’s bloated payroll of planners, attorneys and bureaucrats who foster, approve and supervise the tsunami of development is also nursing at this teat.

Developers know what will ring the chimes of those who approve developments and the trade-off is much more development in return for more and more social and housing “benefits.”

What’s the answer? The next municipal election is slightly less than a year off. We should all be looking at strong, clear-minded slow/no growth candidates to replace O’Connor and Holbrook, who may not run. McKeown, whose term also expires in 2014, is worth re-electing because he’s been the most reliable anti-development vote on the dais.

Maybe with new blood on the council, those with common sense and a commitment to residents, instead of social causes, will wind up taking back City Hall.

This may open the door for a smaller and more efficient city staff who support residents rather than catering to developers via oversized developments and unneeded and overpriced vanity projects.

Maybe then Santa Monica will once again become the subject of news articles on slow growth instead of run-away development.



Bill can be contacted at

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