The revision of the land use and circulation elements of the City’s General Plan has only been underway for six months, but the City planners and their team of consultants have already issued two massive reports.
According to them, the heart of the first report was “emerging themes,” culled by the planners from questionnaires and several community workshops, while the core of the second volume was sixteen questions that demonstrate the kinds of choices the community will have to make in the course of revising the General Plan.
As the “emerging themes” made clear, residents have made their choice. They do not want the bigtime regional commercial center/tourist mecca City Hall has been busy developing. They want to slow down, scale back, and end the frenzy. But, as the 16 questions make clear, the City continues to believe that growth is good and bigger is better. Thus, the only true theme to emerge is that City Hall isn’t listening to the residents.
It isn’t a recent phenomenon. City Hall stopped listening to residents years ago. In 1973, residents had to mount an initiative to stop the City from demolishing Santa Monica Pier. Later in the 1970s, residents sued in an effort to stop the development of Santa Monica Place. In 1982, residents stated emphatically in the Santa Monica Pier Guidelines that the pier should not become a “Disneyland-by-the sea,” but the City overrode residents on “economic grounds,” and established a 70,000 square foot amusement park on the Pier.
The City created the “Hotel District” without consulting residents, but when the City Council subsequently okayed a “luxury hotel” on the site of the old Marion Davies site, residents mounted an initiative that banned further hotels on the beach.
Soon after that, City Hall began referring to itself as the City, and the rest of us and the place itself as the city. City Hall was upper case and vital, we were lower case and expendable.
And so, over residents’ continuing opposition, City Hall has persisted in its efforts to remake this iconic beach town into a money mill.
The recent questionnaires, the workshops, the surveys are all sham and veneer, a dumb show that has had no visible impact on the planners or the revision.
It’s beginning to look alot like 1984 – Orwell’s and ours. The principal figure in Orwell’s novel, 1984, was Big Brother. The sole author of the 1984 General Plan, which was the blueprint for bigtime commercial development of Santa Monica, was City Hall. Like Big Brother, City Hall thought it knew best. Big Brother has been left in the dust by some real-life monsters, but City Hall is still here, and it still thinks it knows best, though the proofs of its mistakes are all over town.
Traffic is a nightmare. Congestion is constant and gridlock is frequent – all exacerbated by the City’s own expanded curbs, medians, and islands as well as the infamous transit mall.
We live in the architectural capital of the world, but the City’s new public buildings are, without exception, mediocre to worse. Downtown Santa Monica has become a manic tribute to haute shlock, and clumsy, overbearing developments rise while historically and architecturally significant buildings that ride very lightly on the land – like the courtyard apartments at 125 Pacific and the RAND buildings – fall.
The City is spending $80 million to expand the Big Blue Bus yard, but has yet to spend a penny on small, quiet shuttle buses that would run between Main Street on the south to Montana on the north.
The litany of City Hall errors and horrors is nearly endless, and, based on what we know, will merely be codified and compounded by the revised General Plan.And why is City Hall making havoc of this old beach town? Because it can.