For some time now, the architects and engineers (and one Recreation and Parks commissioner) who make up this group have been accused of slow, dry writing and wonky jargon-filled screeds. Your message, we are told, is lost in the details! No matter. Today we try something new: a guest contribution by a highly opinionated parks commissioner, professor and journalist with an unambiguous message for the residents of our fair city.
The opinions expressed below are John Smith’s. But they’re not just his own — they are shared by many in the community. We feel they deserve a hearing:
If one were to believe some of the “Chicken Little” hysteria over the LUVE initiative coming from the so-called “community” group Santa Monica Forward and a few others, one might indeed think the sky was falling, the anti-Christ had arrived and Santa Monica was about to fall into the ocean.
But you’re too smart for that.
So are the 10,000-plus people who signed the Residocracy petition in opposition to pro-development profiteers and their cadre of supporters, who would love to pack a few thousand more mostly market-rate housing units in our city like so many college sophomores in a phone booth.
Oh, how they blather on about the need for more housing, yet fail to admit that the vast majority of units they yearn to build would be unaffordable to the people they claim to care about. Have the units built the past few years lowered housing costs even a penny? Nope. Yet these pro-development carpet-baggers continue to peddle their trickle-down housing scheme as our savior and our duty. They claim LUVE will hasten Ellis Act evictions and the destruction of current housing while displacing seniors and lower-income residents. But just who do you think buys up those properties and takes apartment buildings off the market, then kicks out those seniors and lower-income tenants so they can construct more market-rate units few can afford? Who do you think pushed and pulled and paid to get laws like Ellis and Costa-Hawkins passed in the first place? The same people who can’t give any real-world examples of where intense market-rate density has made housing more affordable.
Ask them. All you’ll get is the sound of silence.
The urban sprawl that is present-day Southern California is in many respects the result of promises made by developers who’ve spent decades building in farther away places such as Riverside, Rancho Cucamonga and Santa Clarita, promising then, as now, that they are the answer to our housing needs. And now that the easiest money has long since been made, they claim we must no longer build out, but up toward a higher and denser Santa Monica.
Here’s a simple truth: Developers always build where profit potential is highest. They’ve chosen Santa Monica because they think they can make a killing. Here’s another: LUVE will not cause more traffic in our city. What has and will is development. The pro-development cabal pretends it’s all about diversity, affordability, inclusiveness and sustainability, “feel-good” terms they toss around like so many Frisbees at the beach. What they’re really about is greed. Their housing crisis call-to-arms is merely the mask they hide behind to make money. Do you really think Mr. NMS cares about affordable housing? Then why does he not build a higher percentage of affordable housing units in every project he plops down in our city?
A stampede of market-rate housing will not make Santa Monica more affordable, any more than will additional lanes on the 405 reduce traffic. Developers and the people who support them are just trying to confuse you by claiming this is a debate about housing, when it’s really just about more development. They’re betting you’re too busy to notice.
But you already have.
Look. I bike all over town and will love riding the Expo Line to USC, where I teach journalism, in the fall. But I’ve also worked in news and covered elections my whole life and know “political spin” when I see it. Developers have launched a concerted effort, via groups with names such as “Forward” and “Next,” to put a “community” spin on their profiteering. If the Downtown “Community” Plan is approved as is, developers will push to fill downtown as full and tall and as dense as zoning allows and then some, and will keep pushing for “development agreements” which produce higher and denser projects far beyond what our rubber-band zoning laws allow.
If we let them.
What it boils down to is this: LUVE was created to put those development decisions in the hands of residents. I bet most think a 148-foot hotel-office complex with very little ground-level green space on public land in the heart of our city at 4th and 5th and Arizona is excessive. With a precedent like that, who knows what our city will look like long after the current City Council is gone. Why not just put development to a vote and let residents decide? After all, it’s our city. Who do you trust more: residents who’ve lived here all of their lives, or people and organizations whose sole purpose in life is profit?
One final point: Santa Monica Forward seems to have some pretty deep pockets for a “community” group. If I were you, I’d wonder where they get their money. Someone is now paying people to go door-to-door and scare residents about the LUVE initiative. Someone is paying for the phone survey calls many residents are getting lately. The seven real neighborhood groups — Wilshire-Montana Neighborhood Coalition, Northeast Neighbors, Mid-City Neighbors, NOMA, PNA, OPA and Friends of Sunset Park — don’t have that kind of money. I know because I’m on the Wilmont board. We meet at the Montana Branch Library. We’re celebrating our 20th year. We didn’t just pop up before an election. We didn’t just hold our kick-off party in a building owned by one of Santa Monica’s most-prolific developers. We also don’t offer anyone who shows up free drinks. But that’s exactly what one new “community” group did just a few short weeks ago.
Elections are always about choices. We all know how much money goes into influencing politics, policies and politicians. Some of that money is right here, right now and working to get its way so certain entities can get their way and make money.
Let’s not let them.
John C. Smith for SMa.r.t. (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow)
Thane Roberts AIA, Architect, Robert H. Taylor AIA, Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA, Daniel Jansenson Architect, Ron Goldman FAIA, Samuel Tolkin AIA, Phil Brock Chair, Parks & Recreation Commission