Last Tuesday, the Santa Monica City Council requested City staff to develop some means of soliciting further data from the public on what the goals of the City’s revision of its land use and circulation elements of its General Plan should be. The land use element delineates the distribution of different types of buildings (housing, business, industry, open space, etc.) while the circulation element sets out the location of existing and proposed roads, highways, and other modes of transportation. The zoning ordinance translates the land use element’s goals and objectives into standards and procedures. They were last updated in 1984.Five alternatives, all of which included the development of more mass transit, were outlined in the second milestone report “Opportunities and Challenges” prepared by City staff for the General Plan revision, and spotlighted in a staff report that was delivered to the Council at the meeting. The first was a “no growth” scenario that was described in the City staff report as a means for the City staff and its consultants to “compile information and explain the physical, cultural, economic, and legal implications associated with this policy, including an assessment of impacts to population diversity, property values and housing affordability, impacts to the local economy and possible litigation challenges.” Another was the “status quo” alternative that was “included in order to understand the likely consequences of continuing with existing policy, land uses and regulations for the community over the next twenty years based on past trends and expected reuse of land.”The third alternative, “neighborhood centers, focuses small scale growth at strategic locations along the commercial boulevards that will serve existing residential and commercial neighborhoods.” An “uptown/downtown” alternative “creates a new Uptown District centered around Bergamot Station. This mixed-use district would provide live-work studios, support cultural resources in the area and support opportunities to expand for medical-related uses in the area.”The final alternative was “grand boulevards. This alternative focuses development along the commercial boulevards to create a consistent scale and distinctive character that is unique to Santa Monica.”The staff report requested the Council to give direction on “the alternatives, common elements and options, indicators and the public outreach process for the next phase of the update process.” But, after hearing from a large number of residents who were, for the most part, critical of both the report and the process to date, a majority of the Council members expressed their own dissatisfaction with the process, and, in a four to two vote (Mayor Pro Tem Bobby Shriver was absent), ordered the staff to turn its attention to the revision goals. Former Planning Commissioner Geraldine Kennedy told the Council “I read every word of the alternatives and the supporting documentation and my thought is there is no there there. The alternatives presented to you have no content. There’s no baseline for population, housing units, built square footage or traffic. There are no measurable goals or quantities or timelines for any component of any alternative.” Patricia Hoffman asked, “Why compare the alternatives rather than create a good plan? The issue areas are clear. The people want those addressed. None of the alternatives are effective in doing that. Please show us the circulation portions before asking us to accept any commercial growth in the neighborhoods, the uptown or the grand boulevards.”Secretary of the Wilshire/Montana Neighborhood Coalition Freda Dubin told the Council to “listen to the residents and act in concert with their wishes, not those of special interests.” “The alternatives seem rather grandiose,” said former mayor Denny Zane. “Our concern is traffic, and traffic is primarily regional and due to too much commercial development in our community being approved over the last 20 years. Housing is not responsible for this congestion. Our residential population has declined while our traffic has risen. We need to take firm control over the commercial development potential in our City.”Another former mayor Jim Conn warned the Council to “keep your eye on diversity” so the City doesn’t become “another upper middle class enclave by the beach.”Council member Ken Genser made the motion that was approved, after noting, “A number of people in the community have raised legitimate concerns. I think we need to take a new direction here and not proceed in the direction recommended by staff. We need to form some consensus as to what our goals are before we consider any of these alternatives. I don’t know what the common goals are. I don’t see them in this document. I see a lot of measuring tools but they don’t have any values attached to them. Goal setting is setting values and policies. There’s a tremendous amount of mistrust in this community because there’s no substance to the alternatives, so we don’t know where we’re going.”Council member Richard Bloom disagreed, saying, we’re “shifting gears … and moving towards goals. I’m very uneasy with that. I see this process as a consensus building process. We’ve been moving down a path by receiving copious public input from every sector of the community and there are themes that are developing. I’m not sure I understand the difference between a theme and a goal. I think if we step back now and we ask the community and ourselves to set goals we are preordaining an outcome. That’s different from consensus building.”Council woman Pam O’Connor also opposed the motion, commenting, “part of what we’re doing here is understanding a variety of alternatives which is going to look at where land uses are located and are based on common goals. I don’t think we can back pedal. We’re just are going to dig a deeper hole and put off making a decision. I’d like us to move ahead and analyze the alternatives.”In other business, the Council unanimously voted to require that a Third Street Promenade landlord would be required to obtain a Conditional Use Permit if he wishes to replace a restaurant tenant with a retail tenant. (See “Resident Speaks,” page 7)
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