Tomorrow evening and Wednesday evenings, City Council will review and officially promulgate nearly 500 pages of zoning code updates required by the adoption by the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) part of the city’s master plan.

There are literally dozens of updates that have residents up in arms. They are mostly revisions that would facilitate a marked increase in development throughout the city as well as lead to much higher and denser mixed-use (apartment/retail) developments and inappropriate commercial uses in residential neighborhoods.

The most despised revisions would allow “Activity Centers” for larger commercial properties when (and if) they are redeveloped. Examples are the Rite-Aid/Von’s properties at 14th and Wilshire Boulevards, Bristol Farms property at Wilshire and Berkeley Street and the Albertson’s Center at Lincoln and Ocean Park Boulevards.

These could become regional shopping centers like Santa Monica Place — massive structures soaring 57 feet with another 14 to 18 feet for walls to mask rooftop mechanical equipment, elevator shafts, cell towers, heating and air conditioning. Total height: 75 feet.

The “activity centers” would cover most of the lot with retail stores, apartments, offices and huge parking garages Community benefits would include open courtyards, prominent sidewalk facings and bicycle amenities. Other amenities would include huge increases in traffic, noise, pollution and structures towering four floors over single and two floor homes, next door.

One of the goals of the updated codes is to concentrate development near transit lines, so city planners want to add Tier 3 developments — four to six floor tall apartment buildings with ground floor retail components — to most major thoroughfares such as Wilshire, Santa Monica, and Lincoln Boulevards. However the presence of these larger mixed use structures will also cause traffic, increased density and crowding as well as infringe upon adjacent residential neighborhoods. Council needs to say “No” to Tier 3, too.

To a lesser extent, Montana Avenue and Main Street would have a ‘bonus” height added to their zoning when a developer includes affordable housing in its plans. This would enable three floor buildings on primarily single and two floor commercial streets and forever change their scale and unique ambience. Let me say it again: Social engineering makes for bad city planning.

The leaders of Santa Monica Forward (SMF), that new citizen’s group that claims an exclusive right to promote “values that will shape the future of the city,” have requested code updates to allow commercially operated early child care/education centers to operate in single-family home neighborhoods.

Enter former Mayor/councilwoman and current Santa Monica for Renters’ Rights Steering Committee member Judy Abdo who was the Director of Child Development Services for the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District before retiring and is a member of City Hall’s Early Education and Childcare Task Force. She and a handful of fellow school/education supporters are lobbying hard for this exercise in excessive social engineering over good planning.

Commercial businesses operating in residential neighborhoods is a major source of problems. For example, City Hall’s possibly illegal “OK” for the conversion of a 1920s-era apartment building into the Palihouse Hotel in the middle of a multi-family neighborhood at Third Street and Washington Avenue has caused nothing but grief for neighbors by exacerbating parking problems, traffic and “round-the-clock” noise.

A friend (who asked for anonymity) from a Mid-City neighborhood has an early childhood education/daycare center operating out of an adjacent condo. He told me about constantly being subject to “the noise of crying of infants to toddlers which cause one to always wonder when is there true suffering, abuse or neglect.” In addition to noise all day, vehicles come and go from early morning until well into the evening dropping off and picking up children. The facility applied for and received reduced time “pedestrian loading” parking that virtually eliminates two, scarce, on-street parking spots.

Abdo and her cohorts also want these daycare/early childhood education facilities to allow outdoor play to 8 p.m. Proposed code revisions would restrict outdoor activity to no later than 6 p.m. Playground noise puts an undue and unnecessary burden on those living next to them – especially when these playgrounds may be as close as ten or twenty feet. Later hours only builds a stronger case for why these uses should not be in single family residential neighborhoods.

Present zoning allows childhood education/daycare operations in single-family neighborhoods, but getting a permit to do so requires an extensive bureaucratic process including hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council. However, this revision is needed so residents shouldn’t have to spend inordinate amounts of time, money and energy fighting non-conforming uses that should be prohibited outright.

I agree that “high quality early childhood education for working families is truly indispensable for our community” although there is a time and place for everything and single family neighborhoods are not the place for traffic generating, noisy businesses even if they have a noble purpose. Abdo’s pet projects shouldn’t become a burden to residents and prevent the enjoyment of quietness and tranquility of one’s own home.

I’m betting City Council they will throw residents a bone and eliminate “activity centers” and do a token Tier 3 reduction unless affordable units are involved. They’ll do what they always do and go with their personal social engineering agenda by voting for more development overall then justifying it as a benefit to the community and allow commercial child care/education businesses in residential neighborhoods. I hope I’m wrong, but I feel a screwing coming.

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com.

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