September 25, 2020 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

High Noon at City Hall:

City Hall’s inability or unwillingness to comprehend, much less accept residents’ aspirations for this legendary town beach town becomes more striking every week.

Last night, the City’s Planning staff presented its “Opportunities and Challenges Report” for what it insists on calling the “update” of the land use and circulation elements in the City’s General Plan to the City Council for its comments.

“Update” suggests that we are currently engaged in extending and amplifying the principles and policies in the 1984 General Plan. In fact, an ever-increasing number of residents have renounced those so-called principles and policies as they have bruised the character of the place and created a whole range of problems. These residents want to radically revise the Plan, not update it, and undo those policies that have damaged and demeaned Santa Monica.

A flyer, headlined “Save our City,” put it succinctly. After urging people to attend last night’s meeting, it concluded, “The City needs to know what the residents want – a booming tourist town or a beautiful beach town..”

According to the staff report, “Staff is seeking particular direction regarding the sixteen broad policy questions that are proposed to guide the consideration of alternatives and trades-offs, as well as focus areas proposed for more in depth analysis.

“In April, the City Council discussed, with Planning Commission input, the first significant report associated with the Land Use and Circulation Element project. That report documented the public outreach effort and community input received, and broadly identified twelve themes that had emerged.”

In fact, those themes, despite some larding by the staff, made it very clear that residents wanted an end to the bigtime development that City Hall has engaged in the last 20 years, and a restoration of the low-key, small scale beach town they love.

But City Hall insists on seeing those themes not as an “opportunity” to fulfill residents’ aspirations, but as a “challenge” to its own ambitions for the place.

As the staff report put it, “Building on the themes, the subject report identifies where there may be opportunities and challenges to further those community-based ideals given existing conditions within the City and in light of recognized or anticipated local and regional trends.”

What City Hall dismisses as “community-based ideals” are, in fact, not “ideals,” they are demands, and they are based in reality, not on dreams.

In fact, residents deplore “existing conditions within the city” and want no further truck with “recognized or anticipated local and regional trends.”

The staff report then, “identifies sixteen overarching policy questions designed to frame the preparation and analysis of alternative plans and trade-offs.”

In fact, as we noted on first seeing them, the 16 questions are the wrong questions. Obviously, if the City asks the wrong questions, it will never arrive at the right answers, and so wrong questions are not only useless, but perilous.

The staff report goes on to say, “Recognizing that some areas of the City may warrant further study because of pressures to change or remain the same, or because of other unique land use and circulation opportunities, Focus Areas are identified for more in-depth planning and transportation analysis. Using the information contained in this report and the previous Emerging Themes document, staff and consultants will begin to develop alternative plans and associated trade-offs for special study areas.”

In fact, Focus Area or not, what virtually every part of Santa Monica needs is less “in-depth planning” by City Hall, 20 years of “in-depth planning” has brought us expanded curbs, medians, islands, and near-chronic traffic congestion, as well as too many haute schlock chain stores, bloated, overwrought developments, ever-rising noise and commotion, and cost us dozens of local independent businesses, countless market-rate and affordable housing units, and tranquil neighborhoods.

In fact, no one knows better than the residents of Ocean Park what it needs and doesn’t need, and yet City Hall has steadfastly, consistently ignored Ocean Park residents’ requests and suggestions.

In fact, the very thought of “staff and consultants begin[ning] to develop alternative plans and associated trade-offs for special study areas” makes our blood run cold, because that has been the genesis of every bad project that has emerged from City Hall in the last two decades.

The staff report then says, “The alternatives will be presented to the Planning Commission and City Council and shared with the community through a variety of public outreach opportunities. This effort will provide the basis for another report that identifies the general direction for preparing draft Land Use and Circulation Elements.”

In fact, residents have already decided on the direction of the land use and circulation elements, and the direction is back…undoing all those things that have diminished this iconic beach town and exorcising the boom.

The staff report then says, “Data…provides a comprehensive snapshot of Santa Monica today and of the trends being forecast both locally and regionally that are expected to influence future development, absent policy intervention. From this data, there are clear indications of strengths that the city may build on as well as constraints, or challenges, that can be addressed through policies set in the adopted LUCE.

In fact, until the last two decades, Santa Monica set trends, it didn’t bow to them, and that was one of its saving graces, and “policy intervention” has been the basis for more wrong movies than we can count. Thus a “trend” leavened by “policy intervention” would be two steps in the wrong direction.

“From this data, there are clear indications of strengths that the city may build on.”

This is perfect bureaucrat-ese. In fact, if the planners would put their data aside and actually look at the city, they would see that there are not “clear indications of strengths,” there are actual strengths, and six generations of residents have cherished them for their own sake and they would be as horrified as we are at the thought of the City “building on them.” In fact, it’s been building on them for 20 years and that’s why we’re in the fix we’re in now.

The staff report then “identifies focus areas for more in-depth analysis of alternatives and trade-offs during the remaining phases of the LUCE update process. The proposed focus areas include: Bus Rapid Transit Boulevard Commercial Corridors (Wilshire, Santa Monica, Pico and Lincoln Boulevards); Specialty Commercial Corridors (Portions of Main Street, Montana Avenue and Ocean Park Boulevard); Industrial (Areas currently zoned M1 and LMSD); and Downtown.

In fact, to parse this eight-square mile densely made beach town and pluck out four “focus areas” is to turn actual living parts of an actual town into abstract concepts, and, in that way, to erase the past, insult the present, and hobble the future. It’s not only dumb, it’s dangerous to think of Montana or Main Street as “specialty commercial corridors.” Each of them is so much more than that and both have played and continue to play significant roles in the lives of virtually every resident.

In fact, it is this sort of conceptualizing, this effort to reduce the real to concepts that makes the Planners’ reports so offensive, and so useless.

The staff report concludes, “Following Council direction, staff will develop and present to the community alternatives for consideration. Each alternative will consist of an integrated framework encompassing the focus areas and the broad policy questions, as well as land use and circulation programs and policies at a citywide level.”

In fact, the very notion of developing “community alternatives,” each of which will consist of an “integrated framework encompassing the focus areas and the broad policy questions, as well as land use and circulation programs and polices at a citywide level” is ludicrous.

Santa Monica is 130 years old, densely made and, for all intents and purposes, built out. It’s too late for “alternatives” and “frameworks” and “land use programs” What is needed now is restoration, preservation and refinement of this legendary beach town. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Sadly, six of the seven members of the Council have collaborated with City staff and played active roles in the selling of this beach town to commercial interests and approved policies that are antithetical to the interests of their constituents and, in this way, betrayed the people they are supposed to represent.We’re writing in advance of the meeting, and so we have no idea what the six will do, or not do. But we are pretty sure that unless they take the Planning Commission comments and letters from the Landmarks Commission, Architectural Review Board, Santa Monica Conservancy, Friends of Sunset Park, Ocean Park Association, and others seriously and reject the staff’s recommendations, we are all in for a bumpy ride, because residents are no longer willing to let City Hall have its way with this legendary beach town.

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