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Emerging Themes Are Reviewed at Hearing: will figure in revision of General Plan

At a joint meeting of Santa Monica’s City Council and Planning Commission last Tuesday, both bodies conceptually approved the 12 “emerging themes” that City planners have culled from the City’s initial round of community workshops on the revision of the land use and circulation elements of the City’s General Plan.

The land use element dictates the distribution of different types of buildings (housing, business, industry, open space, etc.) while the circulation element sets out the location of existing projects and proposed roads, highways and other modes of transportation. The General Plan was last updated in 1984.

The 12 emerging themes described in the City’s “Initial Outreach, Assessment, and Emerging Themes Report” are:

1) A unique city with a strong

sense of community.

2) A city rich in amenities,

in walking distance to shops and

services from neighborhoods.

3) A diverse and inclusive city.

4) A community built at an

appropriate town-scale.

5) A city of strong neighbor-

hoods, protected from

commercial and industrial uses.

6) A pedestrian and

bicycle-friendly place.

7) A city rich in its array of

transit offerings.

8) A city where traffic and

parking work.

9) A city of balanced growth.

10) A city with attractive

boulevards.

11) A safe and secure

community.

12) An environmentally

sustainable place.

Members of the public spoke during the discussion.

Kathy Dodson, CEO of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, said that the “emerging themes seem to ignore the economy and its effect on Santa Monica…[such as] City revenue from business related taxes, job creation for residents and the diversity and richness of the business community.” She concluded by suggesting that the omissions occurred because the City did not seek “enough business input.”

Dodson’s remarks were echoed by attorney Kevin Kozal who criticized the City for not talking to such stakeholders as “major employers, healthcare providers such as St. John’s Hospital and the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center, and education leaders from Santa Monica College (SMC) and the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.”

Bayside District Corporation Board member John Warfel said the themes lacked “a regional context,” while architect David Hibbert pointed out the themes did not deal with “changes” that are inevitable.

President of Friends of Sunset Park, a neighborhood organization, Zina Josephs reported that her group conducted its own survey of Sunset Park residents, and that two key neighborhood issues, the impacts of Santa Monica Airport and Santa Monica College, were not reflected in the emerging themes.

Landmarks Commission Chair Rodger Genser spoke about the “absence of arts in the document.”

Finally, Santa Monica Child Care Task Force representative Irene Zivi criticized the report for not “promoting quality affordable child care facilities.”

The Planning Commission voted to accept the themes and recommend that the Council approve them, as well as suggesting that the City also study health, education, small business, arts, cultural and regional issues, as part of its work on the General Plan update. The Council also accepted the emerging themes and instructed staff to investigate preservation of existing affordable housing, continued improvement of City services, open space, airport issues and child care and universal access/mobility issues.

At City Manager Susan McCarthy’s request, both the Commissioners and Council members enumerated qualities and qualifications they would like the next Director of Planning and Community Development to have. Under the City Charter, McCarthy has sole responsibility for filling all but the three top jobs in City Hall.

Her office has said that she will use an executive search team to identify candidates and that she expects the process to take three to six months.

In other business, the Council approved, by a 4-2 vote, Council member Bobby Shriver’s proposal that the City hire a full-time, high level City staff member, who would report directly to the City Manager and work with other cities in the region, to seek solutions to the problems related to chronic homelessness, and instructed the City Manager to expedite the search for someone to fill the new post.

Mayor Pam O’Connor and Council member Richard Bloom voted against the proposal. Council member Ken Genser was absent.

Finally, the Council was once again addressed by Marshall Grossman, an attorney who represents the law firm that won a settlement for the City from the oil companies that were responsible for contaminating the City’s water supply with MTBE (methyl tertiary-butyl ether).

As he did two weeks ago, Grossman noted that his clients want to be paid the fees that were outlined in an agreement that was approved by the City Council, but, he said, “You’ve hired 20 lawyers and paraprofessionals to fight our clients in attempting to collect their fees. You’ve hired one of the law firms and the lawyers that represented the oil companies in the underlying litigation. You’ve opened up all of your confidential client records to the lawyers in the underlying litigation. How many millions of dollars are you spending to avoid paying the legal fees that you owe because at the end of the day, not only will you owe the legal fees but you are going to owe our firm’s legal fees for defending the case and interest at 10 percent per annum.”

He then estimated that the City is liable for 25 percent of the total recovery the lawyers got for the City which “could be over $100 million,” based upon the $121 million the City has already received and the assessed value of the water treatment facility.Council members did not respond.

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