It’s a world class beach town.
It’s 130 years old, measures eight square miles, and is arguably the densest city in Southern California. It has 85,000 residents, 70 percent of whom are renters.
Located on the western rim of the L.A. alluvial plain, it’s framed by the Santa Monica Mountains to the north, the L.A. nation to the east and south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west.
The ocean prevails in Santa Monica. It is its primary fact, the shaping principle, and it is in everything – the light, the air, the soil, and the people who live by it.
It changes from moment to moment, and never repeats.
Like all places on the edge, Santa Monica naturally attracts rogues, rebels and renegades – artists, writers, filmmakers and actors, European exiles, surfers, the Z boys, old ‘30s radicals and ‘60s activists.
The town is densely made, with very little open land, very few vacant lots, but it rides lightly on the land. Its residential neighborhoods range from 90402 on the north, which contains the most expensive houses in L.A. county, to the modest apartment buildings in the Pico Neighborhood in the heart of the city, to the congenial mix of apartment buildings, courtyard apartments, and vintage houses in Ocean Park that tumbles down the slope to Main Street and the beach beyond.
Santa Monica is neither urban, nor suburban. It’s a beach town. And it’s an anomaly. Its grid is four-square and linear, superficially simple, but intricately made – with visual surprises vying with the banal for attention..
Its history is told in its architecture – ranging forward from courtyard apartments, Craftsman houses, Spanish colonial revival houses and duplexes, elaborate Spanish stucco and Art Deco office buildings, the Streamline Moderne City Hall and Barnum Hall at Samohi to such thoroughly modern structures as Frank Gehry’s house and Edgemar complex, as well as hopelessly pretentious concoctions and bulky heavy-handed architectural mistakes that offend the eye, and the place.
Still, the high sea light and translucent air blur, melt, diffuse and soften everything, rendering it slightly surreal, and quite beautiful.
City Hall would put it differently. It would describe Santa Monica as a regional commercial hub and leading Southern California tourist destination that vies with other Southern California cites for tourist and retail dollars. It might also describe it as a prime real estate market.
In 1992, on ending his ten-year run as City Councilman and Mayor, Denny Zane said, “In ten years, we have made this a wonderful city.” There are people in City Hall today who claim credit for making this an even more wonderful city.
But, of course, neither Zane nor anyone in City Hall today made Santa Monica a wonderful city. It took six generations of all sorts of people, time, circumstance and happenstance, to make it what is – which is a world class beach town…currently under siege.
The planners’ “Opportunities and Challenges” are contained in a large book, the second “milestone” report.
In contrast, residents have only one opportunity and one challenge and they can be stated in one paragraph.The revision of the land use and circulation elements in the General Plan offers residents a unique opportunity to undo the mistakes of the last 20 years and get on with the preservation and refinement of this legendary beach town. But, in order to do that, they must challenge City Hall’s authority at every turn.