Einstein said things should be simple, but not too simple.
City Hall’s revision of the land use and circulation elements of the General Plan has been anything but simple to this point.
Generally, planners tend to make things more complicated than they are, as if to justify their existence, and, here and now, their unwillingness or inability to accept residents’ clearly stated and often expressed demand that Santa Monica remain a great beach town has got them going in circles.
It isn’t that the planners don’t know what residents want. They have, after all, summarized residents’ views – with only minor larding – in their “Emerging Themes” report. It is that they find residents’ wishes wanting. They are too direct, too sensible…too simple.
And so, as we saw last week, they have stalled out, and, rather than fleshing out the “themes,” they are peddling the same old “growth is good and big is better bigger” concepts in a revised form.
The title of the staff report that was delivered to the Planning Commission last Wednesday and was scheduled to be reviewed by the City Council last night was itself sufficient to induce mild melancholia or serious rage, depending on one’s disposition: “Draft Alternatives, Common Elements, Performance Indicators and Measures to be Studied and Analyzed as part of the Land Use and Circulation Element Project, and Proposed Public Outreach Program.”
According to the report, “The purpose of this phase of the process is to consider possible land use outcomes and the relationships and tradeoffs between the possibilities. Four alternative land use distributions are the means to develop community understanding and are presented for the purposes of study only – not as proposed policy. Through analysis of the alternatives, the community will select the combination of land uses that is the preferred plan.
“Draft Alternative Concepts. The project calls for an analysis of up to three alternatives that can be used to help identify a preferred plan. Four alternatives are being presented with the idea that one of the Alternatives will be eliminated and, therefore, not studied….The draft alternatives are not complete and not fully refined. The descriptions represent a starting point to stimulate a focused discussion that will help identify a path to further develop these concepts that will ultimately be reviewed by the community.”
The Planners’ alternatives are “Status Quo, Neighborhood Centers, Uptown/Downtown and Grand Boulevards.”
According to the staff report, Status Quo “analyzes how the City’s land uses and circulation might evolve if no changes are made to existing policies and development activity continues at its current pace. Because this will not significantly change the existing environment compared to today, this alternative is not further detailed…”
The Status Quo alternative should be declared DOA as it was the basis for the fix we find ourselves in.
Neighborhood Centers “focuses small scale growth at strategic locations along the commercial boulevards that will serve existing residential and commercial neighborhoods; it also establishes a new mixed use neighborhood near Bergamot Station. Non-motorized transportation alternatives are explored as are parking strategies that support surrounding land uses and walkability. Light rail with stops Downtown and at Bergamot Station are planned for and incorporated within this alternative.”
Santa Monica now has a gracious plenty of “neighborhood centers.” It does not need more of them, but it does need measures that favor local, independent businesses over big chain stores.
The implication here that if people can walk to such a center for coffee or a magazine, they will be content to stay in their neighborhoods is as foolish as it piquant. Much as Santa Monicans may enjoy their neighborhoods, they love Santa Monica – all of it, as well as Los Angeles, and they will continue to wander, and the only way to wander well and truly in the L.A. nation is in a car.
Uptown / Downtown “creates a new Uptown District centered around Bergamot Station. The mixed use district will provide live work studios, support cultural resources in the area and support opportunities to expand for medical-related uses in the area. While this district will be a high activity area, Downtown will remain the City’s focus. Light rail connections between these districts and the region are a key circulation priority under this alternative, as well as expanding parking districts Downtown.”
The “new Uptown District around Bergamot Station” sounds like a major mess in the making, especially since City Hall’s “focus” on the downtown area has created far more problems than it has solved.
Grand Boulevards ”focuses development along the commercial boulevards to create a consistent scale and distinctive character that is unique to Santa Monica. Additional housing resources are planned around transit stops. Commercial corridor transit, improved pedestrian orientation, walkability and bicycle use will be the circulation focus; light rail opportunities will also be explored.”
The Planning Commissioners simply took this alternative off the list, with good reason.
The primary problem here is that the planners’ process is based on a number of misapprehensions.
First, it assumes that Santa Monica is made of playdough that can be endlessly reshaped and rearranged. In fact, it’s solidly made and built out.
Second, it supposes that people are predictable and obedient and will be content to follow directions. In fact, the best thing about people is that they are neither predictable or obedient.
Third, it supposes that things in Santa Monica and the region will move at a measured pace, and that we know now what will happen and when it will happen. We don’t.
Fourth, it assumes that our traffic problem is chronic, and the only way to deal with it is to get us out of our cars. In fact, the City itself has exacerbated the traffic problem and, as bad, though a more comprehensive and sophisticated traffic measuring methodology has been proposed to City officials they have persisted in using the same clumsy, imprecise, old methodology.
Finally, it supposes that major changes are needed in the townscape, but, in fact, the only major changes that are needed are in City Hall’s priorities, which are not only unworkable, but are at odds with residents’ priorities.
We know what we want and we know how to achieve it, but until City Hall starts listening, we will all continue to run in place.
(see related stories, page 1, letter, this page, and Open Letter, page 7)