It will come as no surprise to anyone reading this that land use planning is a hot topic in Santa Monica. Despite the ongoing debates, much progress has been made toward establishing clear rules to govern future development. We are at an important crossroads to find common ground and shape consensus for the future instead of fighting over individual developments because of scars left by controversial projects many argue do not reflect our community’s overall vision.
The citywide Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) of our General Plan was adopted in July of 2010. Since then our City has been focused on the preparation and adoption of several specific plans, ordinances and policy documents to implement the vision embodied in the LUCE. In the past six years, our Council has adopted the Bergamot Area Plan, a new Zoning Ordinance, an updated Housing Element, the Bike Action Plan, a Transportation Impact Fee, and the Pedestrian Action Plan.
The adoption of these important LUCE implementation tools represent a major step forward in establishing a foundation for a complete community. While a lot has been accomplished since LUCE adoption, there is a great deal of work ahead of us to complete additional plans and policy documents called for in the LUCE to establish a clear vision and predictable development standards throughout our city. These include a new specific plan for the Downtown, an updated Local Coastal Plan (LCP), Gateway Access Plan, Pico Neighborhood Plan, Memorial Park Neighborhood Plan and the Lincoln Boulevard Community Plan. All these involve widespread public participation to ensure the urban design rules we adopt, are ones that will be consistently applied, to produce the results we want.
Consistency is the key. Project-by-project planning cannot deliver the coherent overall results we, as a community are seeking. Rather, battles over specific projects can end up producing the opposite – either development that is out of scale with community character or projects that fail altogether after costly and divisive conflicts. We can do better with pro- active planning that ensures all development conforms to community standards.
Our current focus is on the creation of a specific plan for our Downtown, now called the Downtown Community Plan (DCP). The need for a new specific plan for the Downtown was well articulated in the LUCE, as our Downtown has been evolving with the direction set by the Bayside District Specific Plan, adopted in 1996 and the 1997 Downtown Urban Design Plan. While much of the tenor of these plans is still relevant today, 20 years later, there are a number of new planning issues that need to be addressed. The recently revised draft Downtown Community Plan proposes a framework for better building design, preservation of our historic character, expanding public open space, ensuring provision of affordable housing and improving mobility into and within our popular Downtown. The goal is to ensure that Downtown remains the cherished historic and civic core of Santa Monica.
The effort to create a new specific plan for Downtown began a few years ago and since, there has been much public input on the topic. Much of this input influenced the new version of the plan, and we want to promote active community conversations to guide the decisions by the Planning Commission and City Council. Our efforts will involve a series of speaker events, community discussions and meetings with stakeholders and policy makers. This intensive period of community engagement will begin in this spring and run through the summer. A key component of the outreach effort is an interactive tool at downtownsmplan.org where the public can submit comments on the plan. Information gathered through this extensive outreach process will be presented to the Planning Commission in the fall of this year. Following the Planning Commission hear- ing, staff will make necessary revisions to the DCP in preparation for final Planning Commission hearings starting in January 2017.
While the primary focus over the next several months will be on the Downtown Community Plan, we are also moving for- ward on an update to the Local Coastal Plan. The City was awarded a grant from the California Coastal Commission for this work effort which launched last month. It is vital to complete the coastal plan update to give Santa Monica local control over development issues in our Coastal Zone. Work on the LCP will proceed on a parallel timeline with the DCP and the final hearing on the coastal plan will occur soon after the adoption of the plan for Downtown.
Another pivotal planning effort under- way is the Gateway Access Plan. This plan, which is a subarea within the boundaries of Downtown, will explore potential freeway capping opportunities and consider how future development of the four properties located adjacent to the north side of the free- way between Ocean Avenue and 5th Street should contribute to our overall goal of access improvements and potentially cap- ping over the freeway. Each of the significant properties reviewed in the Gateway Access Plan are at various stages of planning for some level of redevelopment, making this an opportune time to consider the possibilities to create stronger connectivity in a heavily accessed area of our community. In the com- ing months, we will review preliminary concepts and launch engineering studies for this work. The public outreach process will begin later this year.
As we make our way through the completion of these critical plans designed to guide the evolution of our city, it’s our hope to foster meaningful public dialogue. Great places ultimately are shaped by great plans – and great plans spring from active and engaged communities. The Third Street Promenade, Palisades Park, our Pier and the character of Santa Monica’s neighborhoods were all shaped by decades of public dialogue and planning. Let’s look for common ground and plan a future for Santa Monica that pre- serves the best of our past while continuing to evolve into a sustainable, culturally rich and inclusive community that is model for Southern California. Your active involvement in these planning efforts is key to protecting our quality of life, our standard of living and a healthy local democracy.
– Rick Cole and David Martin