Local officials are trying to encourage more businesses to open on Pico Boulevard without accelerating displacement in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.
City Hall is changing Pico Boulevard’s zoning to create a commercial district that better serves the surrounding community, which is more diverse and less affluent than the rest of Santa Monica. Although the city has conducted more than a year of outreach to the Pico community, there is still a disconnect between officials and residents around what types of businesses should be promoted and whether they will contribute to gentrification.
On Wednesday, the Planning Commission recommended that the City Council adjust the street’s zoning to attract businesses the community has told City Hall they want, such as small restaurants, cultural facilities, commercial kitchens, gyms and dance studios.
The commission’s recommendations include allowing nursing homes and health clinics, prohibiting medium-sized retailers and limiting large restaurants unless they are food halls or performance venues that serve food.
While the commission also voted to recommend letting bars, nightclubs and lounges open on Pico, community members who have spoken at public meetings on the zoning changes have said they believe that new nightlife establishments would further gentrification.
Acting chair Shawn Landres, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said he thinks Pico Boulevard already has a wide variety of existing nightlife options.
“There was unanimous community opposition to bars, nightclubs and lounges,” Landres said. “If we’re going to respect the process, it’s important to follow the community consensus.”
But Commissioner Richard McKinnon said Wednesday that he believes a modern city should not prohibit bars, nightclubs and lounges in commercial areas.
“It’s never a popular position to advocate that there are people in the community who enjoy going to bars, nightclubs or lounges,” he said. “But the truth is, they’re not coming to (neighborhood) meetings or the Planning Commission. They’re probably funner, hipper, cooler kind of people, but they’re still out there.”
Some residents believe the problems with the proposed zoning changes go beyond nightlife, however.
The Pico Neighborhood Association and Friends of Sunset Park, which represent the two neighborhoods that Pico Boulevard runs through, have withdrawn their support for any changes to the street’s zoning until City Hall conducts additional outreach to long-term residents and creates a zoning plan that preserves the character of their neighborhoods.
“The process that city staff led was pro-gentrification from day one,” said PNA co-chair Oscar de la Torre. “We know the proposals to upzone Pico Boulevard will exacerbate market pressures that push out small businesses and drive up rents in commercial and residential properties. We ask city staff for a more robust community engagement process.”
Some Pico residents told the commission Wednesday that they want the city to develop economic development and affordable housing plans for the neighborhood to accompany the zoning changes. Irma Carranza, a neighborhood resident and community organizer, said she had hoped the city would create an affordable housing plan and find ways to help residents open businesses along Pico Boulevard.
McKinnon said he agreed that the commission’s zoning recommendations do not fully address the neighborhood’s central issues.
“They help in some marginal ways by freeing up a little bit of flexibility along the street, allowing some new businesses to open and letting existing businesses do new things, but they don’t stop (displacement) or rising housing costs,” McKinnon said.
McKinnon, Commissioner Jim Ries and Landres led a motion to make several economic recommendations to the City Council, including a ban on chain businesses, local hiring requirements and financial incentives for legacy businesses.
“We’re trying to create a playing field that allows locals to open businesses and be able to compete for space with a comparably sized entity, rather than a large multinational swooping in and grabbing the spot,” Landres said.
The City Council will vote on the Planning Commission’s recommendations later this year.