A commentary, “Santa Monica’s two possible futures: Which do you choose?” by Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Laurel Rosen perfectly illustrates the wide gulf that exists between the Chamber and residents.
She objects to revisions to the building and zoning codes required by the new Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) being considered by the Planning Commission. Finalization is expected Wednesday evening starting at 7 p.m. in council chambers.
Rosen asked, “Do we reshape our boulevards to be a vibrant, walkable mix of housing and transportation options, or do we settle for what we have — long, lonely corridors, surface parking lots, bike and pedestrian danger zones?” Long lonely corridors? Danger zones? Cue dramatic music.
The 4 percent of Santa Monica’s area targeted for growth by the LUCE focusing on “our downtown and our major transportation corridors … is the kind of strategic growth we need to help us address our traffic problem through proven land use strategies,” she writes.
“Downzoning the city’s transit-rich boulevards (as advocated by neighborhood group leaders and many residents) would be a step backward for Santa Monica, keeping us mired in traffic and inefficiency that diminishes our families’ quality of life and hinders our businesses’ ability to attract and retain employees and customers.” Whoa!
Rosen has it backwards. Intensifying development on already gridlocked streets isn’t going to improve anyone’s business or quality of life. It’ll wall off our residential neighborhoods from light and air and swamp them with more traffic and parking problems that are already vexing major issues.
Rosen really veers off track with claims that “we can reduce traffic, encourage business growth and fix the jobs/housing imbalance while minimizing impacts on our existing neighborhood” by allowing “new housing opportunities … close to public transit options.” Citing a myth akin to “no net new car trips,” is she saying adding more development, i.e. housing, will minimize traffic? Really?
Rosen worries that city planning staff’s suggestions for reviving Wilshire Boulevard: ” … adding housing opportunities and getting more people on sidewalks, resulting in safer and more vibrant streets — is under threat.” She’s alluding to the proposed Tier 3 mixed use developments that could be up to 60 feet tall (five floors) and the even more massive and much hated “Activity Centers” — shopping centers that could soar up to 70 feet tall (six floors) and cover multiple blocks. Examples: activity centers envisioned for Wilshire at 14th Street, Lincoln Boulevard at Ocean Park Boulevard and Wilshire at Berkeley Street would loom over adjacent homes.
Rosen asserts that eliminating these larger developments and proposed massive, traffic generating shopping centers will “stunt potential growth to levels so low that it will not make any economic sense to build housing and our streetscape will remain is inefficient as ever.” Horse feathers! Rosen fails to say, just how much housing (development) is needed and ignores that Santa Monica already far outstrips other adjacent and similar sized cities in terms of new housing generated.
Her thesis employs another urban myth — new residents in housing on or near major transit routes aren’t going to drive or own vehicles. Truth is that adding thousands of new housing units and tenants with cars aren’t going to solve traffic and parking problems, only exacerbate them. Claims that wall-to-wall, four- to six-floor developments on boulevards will protect neighborhoods and make streets safer is absolute nonsense.
Rosen also implies that with all the new housing she advocates, restaurants and shops will prosper on just walk-in trade alone. Sorry, don’t think so. It takes more than tall apartment buildings with ground floor shops to make an attractive commercial street. Rosen must know that cleanliness and safety, a unique mix of interesting retail experiences, convenient transit attracting locals and visitors alike (whether by private vehicle, bus, bicycle or on foot) and scale are all vital for a vibrant street.
On Wilshire and other major streets, a three-story height limit would allow for a good mix of new housing, without overkill, as well as room for exciting new businesses. Thus, the vital human scale is retained on all important thoroughfares.
“The Chamber will be there at every step of the way to ensure we implement this (their) vision.” she concludes. Yep. Pursuing harmful development policies might generate more money for Chamber member developers, land use lawyers, architects and builders, but it won’t make for a vibrant community — just a more crowded, congested and unpleasant one.
Planning Commissioner appointment coming up
The appointment of a replacement for Sue Himmelrich who resigned a few month ago after being elected to City Council is on the agenda for tomorrow night’s City Council meeting. The oft-delayed appointment for a term ending on June 30, 2015 has stirred a lot of community interest.
With a schism in developmental philosophy between the “hold the line and go slow” types to the “build more, faster” types, Himmelrich’s replacement could shift the balance between the slow-growthers and the pro-growthers on this commission tasked with guiding and approving development in the city. Ten applicants have applied for the seat.
I’m enthusiastically sticking with my two choices: Northeast Neighbors chair Amy Aukstikalnis and architect Mario Fonda-Bonardi. Aukstikalnis has been a leader in the resident’s slow growth movement and supports responsible and controlled development. Fonda-Bonardi has a well demonstrated knowledge of and advocacy for good urban planning and resident-appropriate development. Here’s hoping council appoints someone good for the community as opposed to a crony with a political agenda.
Bill Bauer can be reached at email@example.com.