IT’S SUCH A DRAG TO COME LATE TO THE DANCE. You’ve already missed your chance for the good stuff, the best songs, the good food.

I was just itching to reply to the Chamber of Commerce column from last week about Santa Monica’s two possible futures and the group’s depiction of the current state of our boulevards as “long, lonely corridors” and “bike and pedestrian danger zones.” Who wouldn’t get excited about that fraught (but fantasized) description of our dystopian present?

Alas, when something looks that good to you, other dogs are gonna sniff it out too. But listen up, class, this is your last-minute study group, and I’m going to go over the high points and even a few other ones that weren’t covered in the lectures, because the test tonight at the Planning Commission meeting is as important as everyone says it is. If you don’t show up, on time, you are an automatic zero.

The SMa.r.t. group (of architects, an engineer and a city commissioner), in their own weekly column, jumped on some things they disagreed with that were presented as facts. (It seems the pro-overdevelopment folks are very fond of insisting we stick to “the facts,” as though anything presented by the other, slow-growth side are automatically not facts.) They pointed out that the prescribed Activity Centers (where out-of-scale development would be allowed) were now mostly irrelevant because of the cancelled subway that will likely never come roaring under Wilshire Boulevard, and are too far away, walking distance, from other transit to be effective, and therefore should be eliminated.

The figure the Chamber presented, their column pointed out, only 4 percent of the city which could be developed (CC: “prohibits any increase in the remaining 96 percent of our city, protecting our neighborhoods from drastic character changes”), represents only Downtown; it’s around 11 percent on the boulevards, they wrote, bringing the city total up to 15 percent.

Residocracy founder Armen Melkonians wrote to the Daily Press to criticize our growth blueprint, the LUCE. He faults the LUCE itself as being intentionally flawed, sold to us by “snake oil salesmen” who are now pushing this Zoning Ordinance Update. (By the way, Armen, how do you get oil out of a snake? — I hear him reply, “Very carefully.”)

Then longtime Daily Press columnist Bill Bauer weighed in, with his usual well-researched, fact-based righteous indignation, saying the Chamber piece “has it backwards” about intensified development “improving quality of life or reducing traffic.” (That’s such a stretch it shouldn’t even have to be refuted.) He uses descriptive exclamations such as “horsefeathers!,” “absolute nonsense” and “really?” He claims a three-story height limit (advocated by SMa.r.t’s “Two, Three, Four – No More!” proposal) would allow for the best mix for those “vibrant streets.”

Getting more specific, SMa.r.t. architect Ron Goldman suggested leaving one-third of the one- and two-story structures Downtown and along the boulevards as is, leaving still available two-thirds for development to three stories, or four in the Activity Centers. The Chamber of Commerce column states that removing those centers would “stunt potential growth to levels so low that it will not make any economic sense to build housing.” Goldman sent me an economic analysis showing “the viability of developing a three-story mixed use project on two typical 50-ft. parcels, with a healthy return on equity of 15.7%.” That, my friends, is “the facts,” rather than an offhand assertion, that unfortunately many people will accept on the face of it.

It sounds good to extol “preserving our neighborhoods’ character” and protecting them from “drastic character changes,” but allowing dense construction along our boulevards, right next to surrounding residents, as permitted by the Activity Centers we need to reject tonight, would definitely impact affected neighborhoods, with severe parking problems for residents, shadows, traffic, noise, loss of sunlight and other fallout.

There were frequent references to “region” in the Chamber manifesto — “located in a region with a severe housing shortage,” “our region’s growing transportation network” — another theme commonly used by those pushing more over-development here. But what’s good for the region may not be good for Santa Monica. In fact, it may be disastrous. Since we don’t live or vote in Los Angeles, I feel our obligation is to maintain and grow Santa Monica responsibly, as a unique and wonderful place to live, and as the legendary beach community that the world wants to continue to visit (sustaining our economy).

Another mantra: get people out of their cars and onto the streets, walking and biking, because you’ve built so many “housing opportunities” and therefore people won’t use cars or maybe even own them. Good goal, but unrealistic means and no cause and effect. When a resident has a job or just a meeting in Orange County or even West L.A., will they bike there, required materials under arm, arriving sweaty and disheveled? Let’s be realistic, and find realistic solutions, not nice-sounding but inappropriate urban planning schemes that once built can’t be un-built.

Lastly, the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce claims more than 1,000 members but I’m told about 80 percent of those are small business owners. So the tone of the column might represent not the Chamber as a whole, but more the corporate members who stand to gain the most from over-development. In fact, upscaling the boulevards in particular, lined with mom-and-pop businesses, many in place for years or decades, would force too many of them away or out of business, unable to afford the new rents.

“Activity Centers” — for whom?

GO TO CHURCH THIS SUNDAY. At the Church at Ocean Park, 2nd and Hill. Why? Why not? They’re always cool, a church with a long history of community activism.

Sunday is their Vernal Equinox celebration, at 10:15. “Day and night are the same length, reminding us to look at the balance in our own lives.” They promise music, fun and games and good conversation. Also, right after the service: community giveaway, based on a Native American tradition of caring for the community. Bring what you can, but no matter what, take something home, free, no strings. Such a spiritual deal.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.” —Edward R. Murrow

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for almost 30 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *