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Planning Board, Residents Dissect City’s Questions:

The Planning Commission discussed the second Planning department’s “milestone” report, “Opportunities and Challenges” on the ongoing revision of the land use and circulation elements of its General Plan last Wednesday.

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. They were last updated in 1984.

“Opportunities and Challenges” builds on the “emerging themes” identified in the first milestone report, by examining existing conditions and trends. Also in the report are 16 questions that demonstrate the kinds of choices that the community will have to make as the process continues. Below are the 16 report questions.

1. How can Santa Monica plan for the regional aspects of its economy, medical and educational institutions, and locational draw to create balanced growth and enhance the quality of life for residents?

2. What role can visitor-services play in Santa Monica’s future?

3. How much new housing should Santa Monica plan to maintain inclusiveness and opportunities for affordable housing and yet retain an “appropriate town scale?”

4. What types of new development could fulfill the City’s diversity and quality of life objectives?

5. How best can the existing industrial areas meet Santa Monica’s needs?

6. How best can the character and quality of Santa Monica’s residential neighborhoods be preserved while promoting neighborhood-serving amenities on adjacent commercial streets?

7. What is the appropriate scale and mix uses for boulevard commercial corridors?

8. What is the appropriate scale and character of specialty commercial corridors?

9. How can the City maintain its economic vitality and protect economic advantages?

10. How can the City foster small businesses and establishments to maintain uniqueness?

11. How can facilities that support a properly balanced transportation system be created?

12. How much parking is the appropriate amount for the community and what is the City’s role in facilitating its availability?

13. How best can transit-oriented development be promoted?

14. What are the appropriate scale, intensity, and character of the new development, particularly in areas that are likely to experience change over the coming 20 years, such as the industrial areas along corridors, and public spaces?

15. Other than policies directing new development, what resources are available to the City to implement the Community’s vision? Which strategies are the most important? Are there resources that might be overlooked by a traditional land use and circulation plan?

16. How best can Santa Monica promote greater connections between different parts of the City? How could the priorities of the Circulation Element integrate and support the City’s land use and how can urban design be best used as a tool in this integration?

Members of the City’s Architectural Review Board (ARB) and others expressed their concerns to the Commission about the report in the form of a presentation.

Chair of the ARB Joan Charles said, “Some areas of Santa Monica have experienced such rapid and unprecedented growth – without a critical eye – that we may soon be faced with a city of unwanted pockets of irreversible development. The challenge we face is to connect the disparate parts of the existing downtown landscape – the Promenade, Palisades Park, the Civic Center, and the mixed-use development in the Downtown Core – to create a harmonious whole. Density without adequate areas for neighborhood-serving businesses, open space, and a mix of housing styles does nothing to alleviate traffic, promote true sustainability, or create a sense of neighborhood.”

Another ARB Commissioner, Lynn Robb explained that the City must “manage the conflicts of growth in much of Santa Monica which consists of neighborhoods that border on commercial corridors such as Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards, Pico and Ocean Park Boulevards, Montana Avenue, and Main Street. The challenge, therefore, is to create areas for residential growth and manage increased traffic and parking problems caused by such growth, while maintaining the character and scale of existing neighborhoods.”

Focusing on residential neighborhoods, Robb stated that the City should “preserve the beauty and charm of our mixed-density residential neighborhoods by preserving and promoting the low-scale appearance of these areas.”

ARB Commissioner Michael Folonis discussed ARB suggestions regarding parks and open space, streets and streetscapes, sustainability and historic preservation.

Another speaker who mentioned historic preservation was Santa Monica Conservancy member John Zinner who said, “Historic preservation is lost in this document.”

Mid-City resident Matt Baird told the Commission that the city should “retain existing height, density and character of our neighborhoods as is.” He then 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?”

Not everyone was critical of the report. “Smart growth” advocate Alan Freeman told the Commission that “a smart growth advocate would be very happy with the report that City staff has produced … so I would encourage the Commission to endorse a lot of these smart growth principals.”

Friends of Sunset Park President Zina Josephs noted that residents had concerns that “questionnaires (being used for the update) manipulate responses…[and would like] the non-aviation airport property included in the land use update because the property is not zoned and all current leases will end in 2015 when the 1984 agreement with the FAA ends.”

Land use Attorney Chris Harding said that the report lacked information on “health care trends and needs.”

After hearing from all the speakers and discussing the report itself, the Commission developed a list of 19 points that will be incorporated into a letter for review by the City Council. Below are the 19 points.

1. Incorporate study of the Airport, in particular, residual land uses on on-airport land.

2. Evaluate the goals and related land/circulation indicators in the Sustainable City Plan, in the context of tradeoffs and alternatives.

3. Consider a no-growth alternative, and/or evaluate the trade offs of no-growth over the 20-year study period.

4. Concern that the City is relying too much on Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) along the “Boulevard Commercial Focus Areas.” Study is needed to determine if new housing units along the Boulevards will serve workers who currently commute from outside the city, or if new housing will simply add more traffic to the existing street network. Also, the effectiveness of BRT depends on a number of factors that must also be studied including income, density, parking availability and the effectiveness of the transit system.

5. Historic preservation should be promoted in the alternatives discussion that achieves initial outreach themes to create a sense of community, strong neighborhoods, pedestrian-orientation, and an environmentally sustainable place. Historic preservation of not only buildings, but structures that collectively add to the character and neighborhood texture should be recognized and preserved.

6. Alternatives related to the anticipated light rail should include consideration and analysis of a 14th Street station that would help serve Santa Monica College and surrounding neighborhoods.

7. Study various parking alternatives and anticipated impacts.

8. Evaluate the impact of policy decisions on rent controlled housing and housing affordability in general as well as strategies to preserve such opportunities.

9. Evaluate what type of housing is needed, who it might serve, and consider alternatives that require work force housing; also consider opportunities for second housing units in single family neighborhoods, consistent with State law.

10. Evaluate opportunities to encourage bicycle friendly streets, which include dedicated and separate bike paths and possible road closures.

11. Consider opportunities to bring land use county and state resources to address community priorities.

12. Include the Santa Monica Pier and surrounding area in the alternatives analysis.

13. Consider ways to reverse the trend of more commercial floor area and less commercial diversity.

14. Understand which jobs are not being filled locally and how to provide housing to address this need.

15. Evaluate the nature of mixed-use development to ensure that it effectively provides services that support local housing needs. Understand standards that encourage local and regional objectives and the appropriateness of this type of mixed-use development within the City.

16. Identify strategies that can be employed to ascertain appropriate needs so zoning can be developed.

17. Explore opportunities for more open space, parks.

18. Protect small businesses and study how parking standards impact continued viability.

19. Communicate support for ARB, Landmarks Commission, Santa Monica Conservancy and Ocean Park Association correspondence regarding the Opportunities and Challenges report.

The City Council will discuss the Opportunities and Challenges report on September 27.

The Commission also discussed recommendations to make to the City Council regarding the new downtown development and design ordinance that had been developed in 2003 and 2004 by the City’s consultant, the ROMA Design Group. The proposed ordinance would set detailed design guidelines and development standards for the City’s R2, R3, and R4 multi-family residential districts as well as streamline the public review process for such projects. Council discussed the ordinance at their meeting last evening.Members of the Commission decided to recommend the suggestions on the ordinance made by the ARB. These suggestions included ground floor issues regarding landscaping and pedestrian orientation, being able to access parking from the rear whenever possible and reducing parking requirements for neighborhood serving businesses.

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