There will never be less traffic in Southern California, or Santa Monica, than there is today, according to one of the two guest speakers who appeared at the Santa Monica Planning Commission meeting last Wednesday to discuss concepts that should be considered by the City as part of its revision of the land use and circulation elements of its General Plan and Zoning Ordinance.
The two speakers were invited by Commissioner Gw-ynne Pugh, an architect.
The land use element delineates the distribution of different types of buildings (housing, business, industry, open space etc.), while the circulation element sets out the location of existing and proposed roads, highways and other modes of transportation. The zoning ordinance translates the land use element’s goals and objectives into standards and procedures. The Plan was last updated in 1984.
Ventura City Council member Bill Fulton said, “No matter what we put in [our land use and circulation element update] or how you implement it in Santa Monica, traffic is the least congested now till the end of time. Housing prices are probably the lowest [now] than they will ever be again. Parking prices are the lowest [now] than they will ever be again and density is the lowest [now] than it will ever be again.”
Fulton went on to point out that in the last 25 years Santa Monica has become a brand name and, as a result, will never have “fewer jobs and tourists.” He also characterized Santa Monica as “a typical Southern California beach community with less ethnic diversity, more affluence, smaller households, fewer children and a huge daytime population.”
According to Fulton, one problem that afflicts Santa Monica and many other Southern California cities is that “people commute into Santa Monica to work and residents commute out of Santa Monica to work.” But only 20 percent of the people on the road in the region are commuters. The other 80 percent are residents running errands and people traveling for a variety of other reasons such as recreation.
The only way to reduce traffic, Fulton said, is “to get as many people off the transportation grid as possible…[such as] placing housing in extremely close proximity” to shops so people can do daily errands on foot.
“Work places are economically integrated but neighborhoods tend not to be,” he said. “This is a recipe for commuting unless the employers are committed to economic integration where their offices are located,” and build housing for their workforces as the University of California is already doing.
“Housing and transportation are connected,” he continued, and reducing the need for commuting will create “more capacity” on the transportation grid.
Finally, Fulton said that when a General Plan is implemented in a dense city the “coordination between private development review and public capital investment becomes more important than ever.”
Donald Shoup, author of “The High Cost of Free Parking,” said that, in his view, “Much of the traffic circulating is those looking for free or under priced curb parking. If you want an easy way to reduce traffic, raise the price of curb parking which is under City control so 15 percent of curb parking is vacant all the time.”
He also suggested that the revenue from City parking fees should be used specifically to improve the neighborhoods in which the revenue is generated rather than going into the City’s General Fund.
Finally, Shoup recommended that off-street parking requirements be removed…because when a city “unbundles parking from housing, restaurants and from employment so that the drivers pay for it rather than having it bundled in gratis, at someone else’s expense we will have less traffic. Too much of America is devoted to parking by law. On the bright side, these deserts of surface parking present a great opportunity as land banks for housing developments. We commit so much land to parking and non-residential uses that land for housing is scarce. Our parking is free but our housing is expensive. By increasing the price of housing, parking requirements make the real homelessness problem even worse.”
Shoup also believes that “off-street parking creates poor architecture.”In other business, the Commission appointed Commissioners Darrell Clarke and Pugh to participate in the Opportunities and Challenges Open House Community Meeting which will be on August 16 at the Ken Edwards center from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The purpose of the meeting is to informally discuss and answer questions about the second report “Opportunities and Challenges” from the City’s ongoing update of the land use and circulation elements of the General Plan.