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Community Critical of Report Theses: objects to City Hall assumptions about growth

The City Council held a lengthy study session last Tuesday on the staff’s second milestone report, “Opportunities and Challenges” on the revision of the Land Use and Circulation Elements of its General Plan, which was last revised in 1984.

The “Opportunities and Challenges Report” is meant to build on the themes delineated in the first milestone report, “Emerging Themes” by examining existing conditions and trends. In addition, the second report also included questions that, in the staff’s opinion, demonstrate the kinds of choices that the community will have to make as the revision takes shape.

Most of the comments of the more than 40 residents who spoke focused on the ways future development, as described in the report, would diminish Santa Monica, as the report did not reflect the will of the community.

The first speaker Virginia Palmer stated that, with over-development, “We could become just like any other city in this country along the beach, and not be the fantastic place this City is,” striking a note that was repeated many times by other speakers.

Mid-City resident Matt Baird noted both at the meeting and at a press conference before the meeting that, “There’s not one page in this report that says anything about protecting rent control. The real economic engine that fuels this whole fantasy is the Redevelopment Agency and the Redevelopment Zone … renters in this area could be evicted from their rent-controlled apartments so developers can build four to seven-story condos. And Santa Monica’s City Hall gets to pocket 100% of the difference of the property tax from the old apartment building compared to the new four or seven story condo. That’s tens of millions of dollars for City Hall while displacing our residents out on the streets.”

Baird then added, to tremendous applause from the audience, “The public process is not being fully represented and is significantly flawed! We the people tell you we don’t want higher buildings and a more dense Santa Monica, and staff and Council turns around and say that the public wants higher buildings and more density! Stop twisting our words and misrepresenting our needs!”

Jane Lori echoed Baird, stating, “The residents of Santa Monica are not fooled. This all about the money the City could get from putting up more and bigger buildings, but at what cost? Can there be anyone in the City of Santa Monica who isn’t complaining about the traffic and the parking and that just isn’t the residents. Businesses complain about how hard it is to do business in Santa Monica. If it’s easier to get out of Santa Monica then to get around Santa Monica, then where are your tax dollars? They’re going to other cities. If Santa Monica doesn’t want to stand out as a beautiful beach city what’s the point of pushing tourism? How many tourists want to visit a place that looks like any other cookie cutter, over-built grid-locked City with a Disney Store.”

Phil Harnedge took the same line, saying, “I went to these workshops (on the revision) and I did not see anyone lobbying for more construction or more height in potential apartments that would be constructed.”

Ocean Park resident Sue Miller said, “Expensive large scale dense development will eventually squeeze out the middle class from Santa Monica. That is what is driving this plan and much of it was underway before this public process got started.”

Only one speaker spoke in favor of increased density. Barry Cassilly told the Council that “making some allowances for increased density in Santa Monica is the only responsible thing to do and environmentally responsible thing to do in a larger community sense.”

A number of other issues were also raised. Planning Commissioner Darrell Clarke spoke about the key issues to consider when planning new housing, and asked, “Are we providing the right kind of housing that is affordable for the people who work in Santa Monica when we talk about jobs/housing imbalance? How many people who live in this new housing will use transit or walk, versus luxury housing with people who are probably driving their BMW or their Lexus rather than riding the bus.”

Santa Monica Conservancy Board member John Zinner pointed out that the report “fails to identify and utilize historic preservation as a key opportunity and a tool for the City.”

Lynn Leavet read a letter from the President of the Santa Monica-Malibu PTA Council, Laura Robinson, which stated the PTA Council was concerned that there be “insufficient consideration of educational institutions [in the City]. We believe the updated land use and circulation elements should explicitly recognize, protect, and promote the value of educational institutions.”

Pico Neighborhood Association representative Maria Loya said, “In this process we need to look at economic development and not just in terms of what developments are going to bring to the City in terms of tax base but economic development in terms of jobs and preserving small businesses in the City.”

Council members also commented on a variety of policy areas including historic preservation, mass transit, and airport land uses.

Council member Ken Genser said, “Some people were under the impression that this was a policy document. I see this as a fairly neutral analysis.”

Mayor Pam O’Connor agreed, saying that the report is a “neutral analysis because it is raising issues we need to think about as we move forward.” One of those issues, she said, was “residential growth and how much residential growth we need to accommodate.” She also pointed out that growth issues need to be talked about because “growth will be coming to the region.”In an interview with the Mirror, Jonathon Lait, a Principal City Planner, said that City staff will now “develop alternatives that will be presented to the Planning Commission in November and tentatively to the Council in December.” The alternatives will then be further refined and presented to the community in either late winter or early spring. A workshop on the alternatives is tentatively scheduled for April of 2006, at which time another report will be prepared and presented to both the Planning Commission and the City Council.

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