The Downtown Santa Monica skyline is in for changes once a new plan to guide development in the area is adopted by the City Council. (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)

Every resident in our city has experienced frustration with some aspect or another of city’s policies. Wonderful as it is, our city can improve in many different ways. What is needed is a common-sense approach, based on solving real-world problems. Some of these are physical and space-related issues. Others are related to the way projects are approved and built. Here are a few items we feel are important.

Density, Traffic and Service Issues:

Santa Monica’s daytime density is comparable to that of Athens or Barcelona. City policies are increasing the density of the city beyond normal and sustainable limits, and will continue to erode our quality of life unless something changes.

Trains are scheduled to cross the three major north/south streets at 4 to 6 minute intervals in each direction, increasing traffic gridlock unless coordinated with a timed traffic-light system.

Getting to the train stations will be a challenge – with no apparent plans for a DASH system, and/or electric jitneys, to cover the first/last mile problem.

Getting there by car will be a problem – with no commuter parking at the 4th St and Bergamot Expo Stations, and only 77 spaces at the 17th St. Station, congestion from pick up and drop off at both stations is guaranteed. The 4th St. bus and drop off area has yet to be resolved.

A single guard gate appears to have been built along the light rail route at the midblock of 20th street. All other on-grade rail crossings will rely on traffic signals to separate trains from other vehicles, bikes and pedestrians . This is an invitation for accidents.

Light rail will create more challenges to the delivery of timely emergency services because the system will bifurcate the city. The city’s emergency service providers at present are understaffed to deal with this problem.

Common Sense:

Provide an in-city network of public transportation to get people to the train stations–soon.

Provide parking at the train stations for those who cannot use public transportation to get there.

Install guard gates at on-grade crossings to reduce accidents.

Assure that police and fire departments are adequately staffed to provide timely service in all parts of town regardless of traffic conditions.

Fully coordinate traffic light timing and train schedules to minimize disruption to the flow of traffic.

Allow the city to become denser over time and within the parameters of the zoning code.

Development Decisions Issues:

Community benefits provided by developers are insufficient to justify the burden imposed by excessive development. The City has allowed developers too much slack for new projects.

Examples:

Hines saved $35 million by eliminating 650 cars from their parking garage. It would have taken 60 years before proposed community benefits would have matched their savings!

Hines could have built 33% of the project, the most profitable office building and traffic generator in the complex, with no obligation to build any housing at all for ten years.

Hines would have provided 498 housing units- 2 units below the number required to provide proof of an available water source.

The city has allowed downtown developers during a time of drought to build apartment buildings without individual water meters, contrary to the building code thus saving developers money at the community’s expense.

The city continues to allow large projects to proceed, even in the midst of extreme drought. These approvals will complicate the city’s goal to become water-independent by 2020 and likely result in higher water rates for residents.

Common Sense:

The City needs to negotiate or prescribe agreements where the benefits to the City match or exceed the savings to developers.

The City must receive ironclad guarantees that “future promises” are kept in a timely manner‚Äìnot a decade or two away.

The City must prevent indirect costs, such as infrastructure upgrades related to developments, from being passed onto residents.

The City must enforce both the building and zoning codes, for all developers and their projects large and small.

The City must restrict the construction of large projects unless they can demonstrate an independent water supply that will not impact water availability elsewhere in the city.

City Management Issues:

An excessively burdensome building approval process imposes unreasonable delays.

City projects lack common-sense benefits to the public. Example: the bus shelter redesign has provided uncomfortable bus benches, little shade and insufficient bus information.

City projects impose burdens on everyday tasks. Examples: 1) parking at the Ken Edwards Center is difficult to operate, especially for seniors. 2) Parking structure signs at city-owned lots obstruct view of oncoming traffic.

City duplicates work done by expensive outside consultants. The Fifth/Arizona project, for example, had six planning staff working on the project proposal, in addition to staff employed by the developer.

The city pays excessively high salaries in relation to its size to that of comparable cities. Our city employs 62 people earning over $300,000 a year, not including their 80% pension. Pasadena–with a larger population– has only one person earning over that amount.

Common Sense:

Streamline the building approval process and apply building and zoning regulations in a consistent manner. This provides certainty to developers and assurance to citizens that rules will be followed as intended.

Use a common-sense approach to city projects. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to understand that a bus stop needs seats with arms and backs and shading from sun and rain.

Make sure that everyday projects such as parking signs and gates work for people in a practical way. Bring in members of the public to test prototypes and see if they actually function as intended.

Control the use of outside consultants (who often promote their projects despite community concerns). Don’t duplicate the work of developers. Do more work in-house and use expensive consultants only when necessary. The city already employs many talented, well paid people who are qualified to perform most city functions.

Control and limit the top salaries of city employees to align with the city’s goals are comparable with other cities of a similar size.

We want the city to start using common sense in its operations, expenditures, transportation policies and finances. Santa Monica needs a healthy dose of Common Sense.

SMa.r.t. (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow)

Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA, architect, Daniel Jansenson, Architect, Thane Roberts AIA, architect, Robert H. Taylor AIA, architect. Armen Melkonians, Civil Engineer, Ron Goldman FAIA, architect, Samuel Tolkin, Architect, Phil Brock, Chair, Recreation and Parks Commission

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