I recently attended a “Community Conversations: The Future of Downtown Santa Monica” meeting, one of a number being held by the City Planners developing the new Downtown Community Plan.  18 folks had RSVP’d for the conversation, but only five turned up. It was a shame, because these are great opportunities to have your opinion heard about what you like and don’t like and want and don’t want in the Downtown. I often hear folks say that the City doesn’t listen to the community in developing land use plans; the City just does what it wants. Well, it’s tough for them to hear if nobody is there expressing an opinion. In fact, one of the five did say that the City Council doesn’t listen, but we have to understand that the Planners are, in part, the City Council’s ears.

This gentleman and another at the conversation were self-declared Measure LV (LUVE) supporters. Though it wasn’t the intent of the Community Conversation, both used the opportunity to express their opinions about the initiative. I would like to use this opportunity to relay some of the discussion that ensued.

Gentleman One asked why we need all these people to come live in Santa Monica. It was pointed out that from 1970 to 2010 (the last census), the resident population in Santa Monica only increased by 1.6%.  Both were surprised. We all agreed that over that period, traffic has become significantly worse. We agreed, then, that the worsening traffic is not the result of residents – so we can all feel better about ourselves.

So what causes all the traffic? Since 1970, Santa Monica has gained many more jobs, especially around the I-10 at Cloverfield; the Third Street Promenade has become a regional draw; and the Santa Monica Pier and Beach are a very popular attractions for the increased number of tourists coming to LA and for the regional population (which has grown 36% in LA and 53% in the SCAG region). Just stand on the freeway bridge at Cloverfield: in the morning, all the west-bound cars are backed up; in the evening, a river of red lights heads east.

Additional residents coming to live in Santa Monica will certainly not increase the horrendous traffic traveling west on the 10 in the morning. In fact, if even a small portion of those residents work in Santa Monica, that represents a reduction in traffic. There was general agreement to this by the two, yet they felt that some limit needs to be established.  When asked what an appropriate limit would be, Gentleman One indicated 5-10%. The population of Santa Monica is approximately 93,000, so 10% means 9,300 new residents. The draft Downtown Community Plan proposes a growth of 3,500 new residents – less than half of what was deemed appropriate.

Well, said Gentleman Two when explaining his support of Measure LV, the City Council doesn’t listen and we need to stop things for a second. But LV, if approved, is not going to stop things for a second- nor a minute, a day, a week, nor a month; not even a year. Measure LV would stand for 20 years, unless repealed by another vote of the residents. That’s 20 years of essentially no new mixed-use housing located near transit to create complete, walkable neighborhoods, because if LV is approved by the voters, I doubt that many, if any, projects will be approved. The only new housing development will be on the 77 exempt sites (exempt until the new housing element is adopted), of which half are single lots that cannot efficiently be built on. That means 20 years before there is any meaningful new housing to improve the jobs/housing imbalance.

It’s clear that there is quite a bit of misunderstanding about Measure LV and the unintended consequences it will have. Because of this, it is important that we all vote No on LV.

By Hank Koning 

Hank Koning is a Santa Monica architect