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Down with Uptown:

The latest installment of the City planners’ reports on the revision of the General Plan dropped a new concept into the mix.

According to the report, the planners proposed “…establish[ing] 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…[which] 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.”

Even if we could find any evidence that the City Hall’s endless tinkering with downtown Santa Monica had improved it, we would reject the thoroughly addled proposal for this “uptown Bergamot Station District.”

First, Bergamot Station was a brilliant idea that has been wonderfully realized, and is a splendid addition to Santa Monica. As it is, it is complete, useful and unique. This is one of those rare instances when we should bloody well “leave well enough alone.”

Yes, we know that the City always intended Bergamot Station, in its current iteration, to be temporary, as it would be dismantled at the appropriate moment to make way for an Expo light rail station. But, by all measures, it has exceeded everyone’s expectations, and earned a permanent place in our townscape.

The report does not say whether it would raze Bergamot Station, radically alter it or bury it in the proposed “Uptown District,” but the notion of razing, altering or burying this splendid gathering of artists’ studios, galleries and the Santa Monica Museum of Art to make way for a light rail station is foolish and barbaric…especially here in “Art City.”

Second, we like the area around Bergamot as it is.

More loosely made and open than the rest of the city, it is home to a congenial low key mix of things – the City Yards, Crossroads School and the new New Roads campus, OPCO, and some light industry. It has always been and still is an ideal site for artists’ studios and the sort of additions Jennifer Wolch Spoke about in her very smart and truly imaginative and creative presentation to the Planning Commission last October.

Wolch, professor of geography at USC and director of its Center for Sustainable Cities and Santa Monica resident, said, “Standard economic development…could lead to the transformation of the city’s industrial district into housing and commercial development, leaving us with no industrial land. What we need in Santa Monica is a sustainable local economy that produces locally many of the goods we need and want, minimizes water and energy use, provides living wage jobs with career ladders, utilizes waste products as the feedstock for future goods, allows people to walk or bike to shop and work, and produces minimal pollution. In short we need to adopt an eco-industrial approach, which would allow us to see our industrial district as a major resource for the development of cutting edge green industries, powered by distributed generation and solar energy, and providing quality jobs and career opportunities for Santa Monica residents to remedy a deepening social inequality that is already driving people of modest means and minimal chances for upward mobility from our city. And we need to think carefully about how much – and what kind of – retail space is allowed in our downtown, or else risk killing neighborhood retail to which residents can walk or bike.”


Wolch proposes a natural, sensible evolution with what’s there now serving as the basis for what should come next, but the City, in its usual fashion, prefers to make drastic changes and “…create 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.”


The “cultural resources in the area” do not need “support,” as much as they need to be left alone, and the planners proposing to “support opportunities to expand medical-related uses…” are quite mad. Most cities of Santa Monica’s size have no hospitals, while we have two, and they are both first-rate. But they are also both in the midst of major expansions, which have swamped the midtown area and made life difficult for their mid-city neighbors. Why on earth would we opt to further expand “medical-related uses,” whatever that means, a couple of miles away from the hospitals in the proposed “Uptown District,” which is “a high activity area.”

We don’t need an “Uptown District.” We need a workable revision of the General Plan – meaning a plan that reflects residents’ wishes and uses the town’s natural and man-made resources well and artfully.

Unlike City Hall, we don’t want a bigger town, or a busier town, we want a better town – much like the town we had before City Hall got so greedy.

This far, City Hall and its consultants have spent a year producing voluminous reports that have acknowledged residents’ often-expressed wishes, but ignored them. Jennifer Wolch prepared her presentation to the Planning Commission by herself, and we would be surprised if it took her more than a couple of days to do it. It not only reflects residents’ wishes, it is far more thoughtful, more thorough, more imaginative and more workable than the volumes produced by the planners and their consultants.

The latest report, with its idiotic new “Uptown District” suggests we’re at an impasse, and will remain there unless or until the City Council orders staff to stop vamping and make residents’ wishes the basis for the revision of the land use and circulation elements of the General Plan.

But, of course, there’s precious little evidence that the majority of the Council members has paid any more attention to the ressidents’ views than the staff has.

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