Downtown Santa Monica (File photo)

The long awaited draft of the Downtown Specific Plan, now retitled the Downtown Community Plan (DCP), is finally available on the City’s website.

The Plan sets general planning goals for the area defined as Wilshire Boulevard south to the I-10 Freeway and from Ocean Avenue, eastward to Lincoln Court which is the alley directly behind properties fronting the east side of Lincoln Boulevard.

The DCP will be an update of the 1996 Bayside District Specific Plan. It “builds on the strengths of previous planning efforts geared at revitalizing the Third Street Promenade, preserving historic assets, stimulating art and cultural activities, and addressing sustainability,” says the document’s introduction.

The DCP is guided by the 2010 LAND Use and Circulation Element (LUCE), which updated the City’s General Plan. According to the City website, “The LUCE envisioned an energetic and contemporary downtown for residents, employees and visitors that integrates the light rail and preserves the unique character of the district and its commercial and residential life.”

The LUCE called for enhancing the downtown area via better linkages to some of City’s most visible attractions, such as the Civic Center, Pier and the beachfront, but stopped short of firm recommendations deferring to the coming DCP.

“The draft DCP provides specific results-oriented actions to make Downtown more vibrant and accessible to a larger section of residents and visitors, and it promotes urban sustainability by accommodating future residential and employee populations within a pedestrian-friendly and transit-oriented district.”

It seeks to preserve Downtown’s charm and character. This would be accomplished by requiring new development to contribute high standards of architecture, urban design and landscaping – like the proposed 148-foot tall Plaza at Santa Monica at Fourth and Fifth Streets and Arizona Avenue?

The DCP will “create a new model of mobility” that will address all forms of circulation while prioritizing the pedestrian and maintaining vehicle traffic flow for the benefit of cars and buses destined for Downtown. In other words, the mess that traffic and transportation planners have accomplished so far will continue. They’re the same planners behind this document, so don’t expect any real resolution to ongoing congestion and parking problems.

The DCP calls for a strong new housing element by encouraging the production of new housing units for a wide range of income levels. This would be accomplished in part by encouraging infill development such as building new apartments on empty plots, which are now mostly utilized for parking.

The DCP supports both public and private enhancements for a higher level of services and community amenities for Downtown all while “honoring” its history by preservation and “context sensitive” urban design. Example, a modern, oversized, six floor mixed use/apartment building in a block of older, charming single floor retail stores. That’s being really “context sensitive.”

The DCP also argues for “improved architectural design” and “building diversity” (Do you suppose staff means “architectural diversity” in new construction?) Unfortunately the vast majority of new construction in the City’s core – and I’m talking mixed use/residential – is boring, repetitive, mundane, cheap looking and pedestrian. I don’t see any architectural renaissance in Downtown Santa Monica for decades to come, despite the Planning Department’s aspirations.

Lastly the DCP promises to honor Downtown’s cultural and economic vitality while seeking to “maintain and enhance the cultural and economic diversity that allows for the continuing success of the Downtown.”  Yep. More athletic shoe stores and retailers like Victoria’s Secret.

The tone of the DCP is to stay away from massive re-development and to maintain the general low key, low scale appearance that characterizes our Downtown as opposed to the high-rise dotted downtowns of Glendale and Long Beach. This is a good thing.

However, it flies in the face of a number of proposed developments in the City’s planning pipeline like the new 211-room/25 condo Wyndham Hotel with its 15 floor tower at Ocean and Colorado Avenue, the 22 floor Frank Gehry designed hotel proposed at 101 Santa Monica Blvd., the 21 floor Fairmont-Miramar renovation with 280 guest rooms plus 160 residential units at Ocean and Wilshire and the previously mentioned mixed-use, 12 floor Plaza at Santa Monica.

How these overly large projects will be integrated into building codes rising from the adoption of a final DCP will be interesting to observe. And, let’s not forget about Residocracy’s LUVE ballot initiative that will severely reduce new building height and density levels all over the city, including Downtown, if approved by voters.

Check out the draft DCP online at: http://www.smgov.net/Departments/PCD/Plans/Downtown-Community-Plan/. Comments should be sent to Kyle.Ferstead@smgov.net.

Common sense wins on bus ad policy revisions

In other news, The Santa Monica Big Blue Bus (BBB) finally ended its 15-year ban of non-profit advertising on the sides of its buses. City Council unanimously approved allowing non-commercial advertising (from non-profit organizations) on the sides of buses.

Big Blue earns about $2 million annually from billboarding commercial ads. Allowing non-profits and charities to advertise could increase the demand for ad space, drive up the cost of space and generate even more income.

In previous years, Big Blue – fearing a flood of political ads – refused to accept postings and ads from non-profits and charities like AIDS Walk LA, effectively banning all non-profit groups from advertising on its buses. It was a stupid decision.

Not only will we be able to see important messaging from non-profits and community service providers, Big Blue will have an opportunity to bring in more revenue.

That’s a “win, win” in my book. Chalk up one small victory for common sense.

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