The Plaza at Santa Monica proposed for 4th and 5th streets and Arizona Avenue moved closer to reality June 3 when the Planning Commission voted 4-1 to forward the 12-floor version of the project to City Council for review and recommended that council direct staff to enter negotiations with Metropolitan Pacific Capital on a development agreement.

The developer proposes a 12-story project with 195 hotel rooms, 48 affordable apartments, 206,800 square feet of office space, 40,000 square feet of retail space, 12,000 square feet of cultural space, 51,000 square feet of public open space and a four-level subterranean garage with 1,143 parking spots.

The distinctive zig-zag design features cantilevered, angled floor plates soaring to 148 feet. While a bold and audacious design, it’s totally out of scale with downtown Santa Monica. Its massive size and shape will dominate the skyline and open doors for similar, if not more massive, developments in the future.

Planning commissioners typically ignored most of the Plaza’s bad planning aspects by focusing on the affordable housing opportunities it could provide. Sorry folks, 48 units of affordable housing for families from out of town who want to move here is too high a price to pay for this monstrosity.

The Daily Press noted June 5 that Commissioner Amy Anderson opposed too much performance space and said she’d she would prefer a larger housing component.

She also praised the design for its ability to preserve access to the sky and facilitate movement. “I really like the design, it’s quite unique, it’s quite thoughtful … I love the open space that it gives us,” she said. “To me it seems the approach to the design is so much about trying to create open spaces, usable open spaces, some private some public, but open space.” Open space 12 floors high? Wonderful, Amy. The top levels of downtown’s parking garage provide open public space already!

Richard McKinnon liked the design, and we agree it’s not the right location for a building of this size and bulk. Hooray for common sense.

Added another housing advocate, Commissioner Gerda Newbold: “So, I just agree with my fellow commissioners that I think there needs to be a lot more housing in this project.”

Commissioner Carter Rubin wasn’t concerned about the height of the proposed project but noted the uses within the development. I want to make sure we divorce the height question from the traffic question because they’re not explicitly related, he said. “It’s what you put in the building that might generate traffic and how much parking you provide.” Rubin forgets that bigger, denser or taller usually portends more traffic and it definitely does in this case.

Rubin noted that, at 148 feet, the Plaza would be about the fifth-tallest building in downtown Santa Monica and that its design effectively mitigates some of the issues people have with height. Really, Carter? That’s why there’s no controversy?

Many speakers at the hearing suggested the 2.5-acre property be used for a green park. Rubin responded that revenues generated from the Plaza’s ground lease could be used to acquire land for park space in a high-density area where there is a significant amount of affordable housing. Can’t say these commissioners don’t have a one-track mind, huh? Maybe the Plaza should go in “an area of high density and where there is a significant amount of affordable housing.”

Commission Chair Jason Parry noted the extremes in public opinion for and against the proposed development. “I would hope that there is some sort of space for some middle ground,” he opined. Yeah, there was until City Council gave the developer the go-ahead to plan a 12-floor building last June because it would have 48 affordable apartments instead of 24 in a smaller 84-foot version.

Aside from McKinnon, apparently nobody on this Planning Commission realizes that the draft Downtown Specific Plan maximizes structure height at 84 feet so this taller Plaza would require a general plan amendment for the excessive building height.

The debate on the Plaza points out some serious Planning Commission problems. Council appoints folks to the Planning Commission primarily because they’re affordable housing zealots. Good planning views are irrelevant and, like most things Santa Monica, social engineering is the whole shebang. Unfortunately, we’re all paying a huge price with a poorly planned urban landscape that contributes to traffic, congestion, pollution, density and an increasingly crowded environment.

For the record, the terms of Jason Parry, Jim Ries and Carter Rubin all expire June 30. I doubt that council has the guts, but a wholesale house cleaning is needed and this is a perfect time to begin reducing the commission’s burdensome social agenda by appointing three new people who believe that good planning comes first.

Big weekend ahead

Don’t forget a very special 150th anniversary “Juneteenth” celebration coming up this Saturday, June 20. The City of Santa Monica is hosting the city’s 23rd annual Juneteenth at Virginia Avenue Park from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. It promises to be a day filled with entertaining music, dance, fun, crafts, face-painting and games for kids, a cultural arts marketplace, Texas-style BBQ and other favorite foods.

On Sunday, June 21, Santa Monica’s neighborhood associations are hosting free Make Music Day festivities all day long in public parks throughout the city. It’s music to my ears. Go. Picnic. Enjoy!

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

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