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Our Byzantine City Hall:

It is increasingly clear that our dazzling, lucid, 1930s Streamline Moderne City Hall has Byzantine aspects.

In theory, City Hall’s sole reason for being is to serve the residents of Santa Monica, but, in fact, a number of years ago, it elevated its own interests over the interests of the community and this seismic shift has, of course, led to a profound dilemma.

How can residents communicate with City Hall insiders who see and hear only what they want to see and hear?

In the nine months City staff, consultants and residents have worked on the revision of the General Plan, the community has expressed its views clearly and cogently again and again, and yet the City planners and their consultants persist in ignoring residents’ views (i.e. less is more) and focusing on its own views (i.e. growth is good and big is better).

At a Planning Commission discussion of the planners’ second “milestone” report, “Opportunities and Challenges,” on the General Plan revision on September 8, resident Matt Baird asked a question that many residents have asked; “Does this proposed land use update protect the livability of the community for the residents or is it going to make more money for the City at the expense of the residents?”

After hearing from Baird and many other residents, and discussing the report itself, the Commission developed a list of 19 areas that should be examined in the course of the revision. The list will go to the City Council for its consideration.

Some of the areas the Commission believes should be included in the revision are a study of residual land uses on airport land, an evaluation of the goals and “related land use/circulation indicators” in the Sustainable City Plan, an analysis of a no-growth alternative and/or an evaluation of the trade-offs of no-growth over the 20-year study period, the use of historic preservation as a means of sustaining a sense of community, coherent neighborhoods and a healthy environment, as well preserving the character of the place, an evaluation of the impact of policy decisions on rent controlled housing and housing affordability in general as well as ways of preserving such housing, an evaluation of what type of housing is needed now and whom it might serve, the addition of second housing units in single family house neighborhoods, an analysis of ways to reverse the increase of commercial floor space and decrease of commercial diversity, an evaluation of the impact of mixed-use development to ensure that it provides services that support local housing needs, the addition of more open space and parks, and some means of encouraging and protecting local businesses.

The Commission also suggested that the City relies too much on Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in “Boulevard Commercial Focus Areas,” and added that study is needed to determine if new housing units along the boulevards will serve workers who currently commute from outside the city or will simply add more traffic to the existing street network.

Finally, the Commission endorsed for ARB, Landmarks Commission, Santa Monica Conservancy and Ocean Park Association correspondence regarding the “Opportunities and Challenges” report, which the City Council will discuss at its next meeting on September 27.

What countless residents, the ARB, the Landmarks Commission, the Santa Monica Conservancy, the Ocean Park Association, Santa Monicans for a Livable City, Friends of Sunset Park and now the Planning Commission have said over and over again is that they want a thorough examination of a whole range of alternatives, not a by-the-book extension of and elaboration on existing policies, which, in the view of many residents, are not only inadequate but wrong–headed.

Ultimately, residents want Santa Monica back – not Santa Monica the regional commercial hub, not Santa Monica the bigtime tourist mecca, not Santa Monica the ride, but Santa Monica, the world class beach town.

No wonder City Hall isn’t listening. After all, it’s spent the last two decades trying to tame the contrary beach town and turn it into a docile money mill, and, if it has its way, it’ll spend the next two decades finishing the job, and finishing off Santa Monica, too.After all, here and now, it’s a whole lot harder to preserve and refine the real thing than it is to make a fake something or other.

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