MY WRITE — By next June, hundreds of municipal zoning codes will have to be revised and approved. They mustadhere to the update of the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) — a key component ofSanta Monica’s General Planwhich establishes the City’s land use, urban design, and transportation vision.
The new codes will govern all aspects of new construction and development in the city for the next twenty years. Residents want zoning ordinances that will keep a lid on development and traffic, restrict heights and density, protect housing and structures of merit, insure adequate parking and contribute to a more attractive and livable community
Developers primarily want to develop projects that are marketable and profitable, with few limitations on height, massand density. Generous building codes are their ticket to projects that make more money.
I’vewritten previously about a number of last minute changes requested by land-use attorneys, developersand the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce favoring businesses and developers — and opposed by most residents — that were incorporated into the LUCE in the immediate weeks before its approval five years ago
For four plus years the Planning and Community Development Department has been working on code updates and revisions to implement LUCE goals. Residents and business interests alike have been engaging in a tug of war on the wording of final codes and standards that will balance resident “quality of life” issues with the business community’s fiscal health.
Suspicions arose a year ago when neighborhood leaders were scrutinizing zoning maps in the LUCE and noticed that over 100″A” lots citywide (residentially zoned lots mostly adjacent to commercial properties and used for parking) had been mysteriously changed to “commercial” designations.
Planners were caught by surprise. Everyone played dumb when asked how the conversion of residential to commercial designation had come about and who made the changes.After weeks of stonewalling and buck-passing, Planning Director David Martin disclosed that the map designating the “A” lots as commercial properties was part of the LUCE presentation approved by City Council in July, 2010.
Apparently, nobody noticed the map changes, including those on the Council dais who approved the LUCE, until they were spotted by Tricia Crane and Amy Aukstikalnis of the Northeast Neighbors neighborhood group. After much wrangling, Martin indicated that the changes were “in error” and the map would be corrected.
Still unanswered are the questions as to how and why the changes were made, who actually made the changes and who approved them as part of the LUCE presentation. The “A” lot changes clearly benefit developers with commercial projects because it enables them to combine street fronting commercial properties with adjoining “former” residentially-zoned lots and build a much larger and profitable commercial project such as an apartment/mixed use development or car dealership.
Similarly, a few weeks ago, troubling new language suddenly popped up in the redline draft of the Zoning Ordinance Update’s”Purpose” section. It called for regulations to “enhance the City’s fiscal health.” Nobody would fess up to where it came from and why it too appeared without any public discussion. Kinda makes you wonder who is in charge, doesn’t it?
At the December3, Planning Commission meeting,Sue Himmelrich (now on City Council) challengedthe “fiscal health” language that had been added to the redline update. Himmelrich proposed “fiscal health” be removed because she could foresee the day when land use lawyers would use it to advance “crappy projects” that “give the city a little money.”
Deputy City Attorney Barry Rosenbaumwho advises the Commission, argued vehemently to persuade commissioners to keep thelanguage in. Then,Commissioner Jennifer Kennedyrevealed the source of “fiscal health” wasland use/developer attorney Chris Harding.
Kennedy said, “I know you are saying you don’t know where it (the added language) came from but in that same letter I referenced earlier — ayear-old, Dec. 10, 2013 letterthe Harding law firmtoPlanning Commissioners and staff — (it) says, to please include a section with respect to resident serving facilities and services and please add a statement about the city’s “fiscal health.”
I’m not faulting Harding for doing whatever he can to curry favor with his many developer clients, however I lay blame on planning staff and its legal advisors for the “screw the residents” shenanigans. It seems they are more interested in catering to land-use attorneys like Harding and developer interests than extendingequal consideration to the voting taxpayers who live here and who pay their generous salaries.
As the last few zoning update meetings unfold between now and the end of January, thequestion remains: Willthe Planning Commissionvote to recommend to council thatlarge “activity centers” and five floor and higher buildings on major boulevards be scuttled as requested by residents? Or, will they keep them in to satisfy the desires of developers and their attorneys for bigger, denser and more profitable developments? And, what will happen to the “A” lots?
For far too long, special insiders, lobbyists land use/developer attorneys and powerful influence peddlers have infused their presence in all aspects of city government and occupied most seats at the table.
While powerful business entities co-host city events, attend meetings and have the ear of department heads and key staff, the rest of us are not invited to the party and casually dismissed in the debate on Santa Monica’s future. This is no longer acceptable.
Next week: Ye Olde Holiday Wish List!!!
Bill can be reached email@example.com