If you’re the kind of resident who has really enjoyed the years of debate over zoning rules but thought that perhaps the topic could benefit from a few additional items of controversy, such as climate change, affordable beach access and overlapping state bureaucracy then rejoice for a new coastal specific zoning discussion is about to begin.
Planning Commission received a briefing on Santa Monica’s proposed Local Coastal Plan last week as staff prepares to centralize authority for coastal development within City Hall.
The new plan will update a 1992 document and if approved the LCP would streamline potential coastal development by centralizing authority with the City of Santa Monica as opposed to the current system that requires the involvement of the California Coastal Commission.
A Local Coastal Plan has two elements; a Land Use Plan (LUP) that describes land use conditions/policies/maps and an Implementation Plan also known as Coastal Zoning Ordinance that describes development standards. The commission must approve both.
Santa Monica received the commission’s approval for a LUP in 1992, however the Implementation Plan was not approved. Since that time, potential development along the coast has required approval by the City and Coastal Commission, a situation local regulators seemed eager to change.
“There is no real gain of going through the Coastal Commission process and if we’re taking that away then we’re not only going to be saving people money, we’re hopefully going to be saving them time,” said Planning Commissioner Mario Fonda-Bonardi.
According to staff, the new LCP will integrate many of the city’s zoning plans created since 1992 including the LUCE, Civic Center Specific Plan, Beach Overlay Zone (Prop S), Downtown Specific Plan, Bike Action Plan, Pedestrian Action Plan and Sustainable City Plan. The LCP would account for new transportation options in Santa Monica, such as Expo and Breeze Bikeshare, and plan for elements of climate change such as rising sea level.
The LCP will apply to about a 1.5 square mile area between the Pacific Ocean and 4th Street north of Pico Boulevard or Lincoln Boulevard south of Pico. According to the staff report, up to 7 million visitors access Santa Monica’s coastal zone annually.
While supportive of the effort, the Planning Commission repeatedly questioned how Santa Monica staff would convince the State regulators to support local goals and definitions that differ from those currently enforced at the Coastal Commission.
In particular, parking seemed to weigh heavily on the minds of the Planning Commission.
“(The Coastal Commission) want us to make the case and show them why it’s possible to count parking in the downtown as parking at the beach and if we can do that, well I think they are open to listening to the argument,” said Senior Planner, Strategic & Transportation Planning Division Elizabeth Bar-El.
She said the Coastal Commission were also receptive to the idea that Santa Monica could locate affordable accommodation slightly further from the ocean.
“They were also open to the idea that if there’s affordable accommodation that’s not in the coastal zone but you can easily see how someone staying there can get to the beach, then that’s OK with them,” she said.
Bar-El said the process moving forward would require significant discussion between the state and local staff.
“We do know that we need to have policies that satisfy the Coastal Commission and as we go through this process we’ll see what ideas we have, what we suggest, what they suggest and we’ll get there,” she said.
Planning Commission Chair Richard McKinnon questioned if the city would have to revise its existing rules to satisfy the Coastal Commission’s requirements.
Bar-El said some tweaks to existing rules could be made but stressed the City’s process is being guided by discussions with State staff because both organizations have a desire to see the LCP succeed.
“If not, we will end up like 1992,” she said. “To avoid that situation we and (the Coastal Commission) are both interested in having an ongoing dialog so if their staff is leading us in the right way and they are in tune with what (the Coastal Commission) wants to do, hopefully we will avoid that, that’s the goal.”
Staff will now begin conducting community outreach regarding the proposal with the goal of developing an outline and framework by June of this year.