The Planning Commission’s meeting last Wednesday provided more evidence of how out of sync commissioners are with the community. The occasion was the crafting of final recommendations for changes required in the zoning and building code updates so they’re in harmony with the 2010 Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) before forwarding them to City Council for the final word.
The good news is the politically appointed commission recommended that the majority of the 115 “A” lot parcels on the LUCE and “official districting” maps that were mysteriously changed from “residential” to “commercial” should change back to “residential.”
Then came the bad news — lots of it. The commission voted to oppose everything that residents wanted. Wilmont, the Northeast neighborhood and Mid-City neighbors all got the shaft.
The commission voted to keep Tier 3 developments — high-density, mixed-use residential/commercial buildings with four to six floors — proposed for Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards. They also voted for the much-despised, traffic-generating shopping centers (“activity centers”) on Wilshire. Neighborhood activists vowed to appeal the decision so that it’ll have to be considered by City Council when it deliberates on code changes next month.
Controversy swirled around a huge property adjacent to the residential neighborhood at 1801 Wilshire Blvd. The rear surface parking was changed from low-rise, residential (R2) land use to high-density mixed-use boulevard (MUB). Outraged neighbors have vowed to fight like a banshee to return 1801 Wilshire to R2.
Typical of the controversy were suggested code changes to permit a 6-foot height bonus, or an extra floor, in renovated buildings that were either a historical resource or a “structure of merit” in R2-zoned, low-scale, multi-family neighborhoods that were formerly R3-zoned, medium-scale multi-family neighborhoods.
I know, it’s a lot of wordy minutiae, but in a neighborhood such as Wilshire-Montana with a slew of historic properties, adding an extra floor to those buildings (when renovated) cuts off sunshine and air for neighbors, and invites conversions from apartment buildings to hotels and medical offices. It commercializes the neighborhood.
The historical preservation lobby also nabbed a ruling that allows a developer to build to higher and denser Tier 3 heights without a development agreement. No public review? Are they kidding? These aren’t benign, harmless ways to save historical buildings. It permits developers to build five- and six-floor buildings next to one- and two-story homes.
Here’s the deal: Under the new Zoning Ordinance, developers are gifted with construction incentives and bonuses for historical preservation, affordable housing, child care,”sustainable” construction and unspecified community benefits. This means every new mixed-use and commercial project in the city will likely be bigger, denser and wider than the district zoning supposedly allows.
What is most frightening is that commissioners Jason Parry, Jim Ries, Amy Anderson and Gerda Newbold think that the deeply flawed and well-manipulated LUCE was created by and for residents and we like it. As with the zoning code updating process, the creation of the LUCE was compromised by politics, back room deals, special interests and favoritism. Resident input was ignored or conveniently left out by commissioners and planning staff alike.
Throughout the zoning update process, developers and commissioners have said that opposition to LUCE and placement of high-density housing on transit-rich, main thoroughfares is based on fear. If that means opposition to LUCE and some zoning update recommendations is based on fear of more traffic congestion, more parking problems, more pollution, more demands for resources such as water, more air and water pollution and a distinct downgrade in quality of life — I’d say, “Yaahh!”
Commissioner Ries emailed me last week and commented on my column criticizing him and other commissioners for proposing an extra 6 feet of height (or an extra floor) for new construction on Montana Avenue and Main Street — which ultimately was dropped by the commission. “Why is it acceptable to incentivize affordable housing in Neighborhood Commercial areas along Pico, but not other Neighborhood Commercial districts? If it is good/acceptable for Pico, it should be good for other areas. If it is not good/acceptable for other Neighborhood Commercial districts, than it should be excluded from all Neighborhood Commercial Districts … ” he wrote.
My response was, “Not all neighborhoods are the same. ‘One size fits all’ is bad planning … ” But, we all know that the majority of planning commissioners care more about advancing their own ideals and vision for Santa Monica than representing and carrying out the residents’ vision for the community.
Why incentivize extra height and density along Pico Boulevard if adjacent neighbors aren’t willing to give up lower heights and density zoning for additional housing? It doesn’t make any sense. As with members of City Council, this bunch is obsessed with its own social engineering agenda and the rest of us get screwed over and over as a result.
“Jennifer Kennedy and Richard McKinnon fought valiantly against Tier 3, theWilshire Activity Centers and up-zoning 1801 Wilshire, but they had no chance with this pro-height and density commission,” said Taffy Patton, chair of the Residents Coalition.
Thanks to Kennedy and McKinnon, who’ve been leading the fight to support resident recommendations. However, what was McKinnon thinking when he opened a can of worms by suggesting up-zoning Santa Monica Catholic Church property from low-scale R2 zoning to denser, higher R3 zoning? Saint Monica is in the middle of a low-scale residential neighborhood.
Bill Bauer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.