FUTURE: This image depicts what a new development on Arizona Avenue (left) will look like. (Rendering courtesy City of Santa Monica)

MY WRITE — The New Year has arrived. Because of the holidays, not much has happened in the last few weeks, but that’s all going to change quickly.

We have a new City Council and we’ll have a new City Manager later in the year. The major challenge facing them is development. With the Miramar Hotel rebuild, a new 15 floor Wyndham Hotel and condo project near the Santa Monica Pier and 22 floor Frank Gehry-designed hotel/condo project at Ocean Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard pending, expect action on these major developments after two years gestation.

There’s also the 12 floor Plaza at Santa Monica projected for 2.5 acres of city-owned property at Fourth and Fifth Streets at Arizona Avenue with entertainment plazas, offices, retail space, commercial work space, 48 affordable apartment units managed by Community Corporation of Santa Monica, a 225 room unionized hotel and 1,200 underground parking spaces.

Specific plans for an enlarged and upscale Bergamot Station Arts Center will be unveiled this year. Watch this add pressure to reduce heights and densities all over town.

This may also be the year thatResidocracy.orgcirculates another ballot measure petition to limit building heights, citywide. In addition to a likely three floor maximum height for residential neighborhoods, the initiative could also stipulate a four-floor maximum height limit on major boulevards and an 84-foot maximum height (or seven floors) for future Downtown developments.

This should receive overwhelming voter approval. The only questions are about the height limitations to be specified in the referendum and when Residocracy will begin gathering signatures to qualify it for the ballot in a future election.

Although not showcase developments, there are a couple dozen mid-level projects in the pipeline, mostly in the Downtown area and along Lincoln and Wilshire Boulevards. These five to seven floor, 50 to 100 unit developments will add thousands of new apartments and tens of thousands of new car trips. They’ll contribute significantly to traffic congestion as well as exacerbate the demand for water, gas, electricity, solid and liquid (sewage) waste management.

So far, City Hall shows no indication of slowing down the tsunami of pending mid-level developments because they’re housing projects with limited “neighborhood-serving” retail space. With developers eager to meet politician’s demands for more low income housing units in order to get their projects approved, stopping the flood may prove difficult.

Another trend is the emergence of politically ambitious, mostly young agitators who don’t live in Santa Monica with an agenda to lobby for additional bicycle infrastructure, encourage bus ridership and more pedestrian-friendly streets.

The coalition’s goal is to influence the political process. There’s concern that coalition members look at residents and those who oppose their ideology as “behind the times” oldsters. The young-verses-old situation reared its ugly head during the recent election when coalition leaders embarked on a youth voter registration drive to bolster a young, pro-bicycle voter base to elect pro-alternative transit, pro-development candidates.

This loose knit coalition is made up of local bicycling supporters as well as individuals involved in the Southern California Streets Initiative (SCSI), a non-profit, transit lobbying group that publishes the Los Angeles-centric “Streetsblog” and “Santa Monica Next” pro-bicycle/bus/pedestrian propaganda websites. Many of two dozen speakers endorsing a proposed seven floor, 262-unit apartment development at 500 Broadway at an October 14 council hearing were from this coalition.

The pro-development bicycle coalition views the transportation amenities promised by developers in projects as a big plus. In return for endorsing developments such as the now defunct Hines/Bergamot Transit Village project and pending Plaza at Santa Monica, they’ve received backing and support from key developers and their lobbyists.

Because of in-common interests, individuals associated with SCSI have also pursued funding and working relationships with established and powerful Downtown entities such as the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. The Chamber supported the coalition’s pre-election youth voter registration efforts and just recently, bicycle and mass transit cheerleader Juan Matute was appointed to Downtown Santa Monica, Inc’s Board of Directors.

In their quest for real political clout, the SCSI/bicycle coalition is going to try to get at least one of its own on the Planning Commission. Three seats will be open this year. I’m betting that they’ll also run candidate(s) for council in 2016 as they strengthen their fiscal alliance with the development/business community. I say, “Welcome to the fray.”

Also coming up this year is the Lincoln Boulevard Beautification Plan. Making this busy street (with over 40,000 car trips a day) more pedestrian friendly is a major goal. We should see specific proposals by year-end. The way the transportation planners work in this city, expect a potpourri of planted medians, more crosswalks and traffic lights, bus lanes (already approved but on hold) and other traffic jamming street alterations.

And, when Lincoln traffic goes gridlock 12 hours a day, then what? 40,000 vehicles aren’t just going to vanish into thin air. They’ll be clogging residential side streets in both Sunset and Ocean Parks.

By mid-summer, we should have council approval of the final updates to the post LUCE (Land Use and Circulation Element) zoning codes. If codes are promulgated that aren’t neighborhood compatible or scaled back in terms of overly large projects, more than a couple of council persons will be targeted for retirement in 2016.

People are getting increasingly angry and frustrated. Therefore, I see one heck of a knock down, drag out year in Santa Monica politics. Buckle up.


Bill can be reached atMr.bilbau@gmail.com

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