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Making a Neighborhood a Place:

City residents got a chance to sit down and plan the future of Santa Monica’s neighborhoods through a group of interactive workshops held around Santa Monica at the end of March and the beginning of April. The public feedback will be used as part of the City’s ongoing update of its Land Use and Circulation Elements of its General Plan.

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.

According to Planning Director Eileen Fogerty, these interactive workshops were designed to focus “on preserving existing neighborhoods and identifying guiding principles for creating” areas along boulevards where neighborhood services are provided. They were also designed to “identify new transportation and parking alternatives to maintain the quality of life throughout the City.”

City consultant John Kaliski from Urban Studio asked the participants at each workshop to try to answer the following questions as part of their input: “What should we demand or expect in the future? How can we link our neighborhood to the commercial/services along the boulevards? How do we maintain/energize our commercial/services? How should our boulevards be configured? What are the priorities? How will the transportation serve our community? Where do we want to place our public investment?”

At the first workshop, residents gathered at Virginia Avenue Park to focus on the Pico Neighborhood and made suggestions on how to improve Pico Boulevard. Suggestions included having wider sidewalks, placing parking either underground or on rooftops, shared parking, elevated mass transit, changing Santa Monica College’s parking, bike and bus lanes and placing a parking structure by the 10 freeway. Other recommendations included having more mixed-use projects, boutique retail and markets in immediate neighborhoods, rehabilitating linked car lots, reducing the number of auto body shops, improving the boulevard’s lighting and adding bus stops. Participants also called for a library in the area, additional cafes and restaurants and a small theater.

Longtime Pico Neighborhood resident Ana Jara expressed a prevalent sentiment at the workshop: it is important to “preserve the quality of life” of the Pico area by “not maximizing out our density.”

The second workshop was held at Lincoln Middle School, and concentrated on the Wilmont/Mid-City areas. Wilmont encompasses Wilshire Boulevard to Montana Avenue and Ocean Avenue to 21st Street while the Mid-City area consists of the area roughly from California Avenue to Olympic Boulevard and Lincoln Boulevard to Centinela Avenue. The input focused on Wilshire Boulevard, and there was also a group that focused just on parking issues.

Participants suggested having more mixed-use projects, taller buildings, adding additional mass transit and neighborhood shuttles. In terms of parking, participants felt the need for shared parking and underground parking, similar to Pico residents, diagonal parking, lower parking costs for residents and utilizing underutilized commercial parking for residents. Also, as was the case with the Pico meeting, residents called for wider sidewalks, better street lighting and dedicated bus lanes. Participants also wanted to see more cafes, retail and restaurants, public restrooms, dual-purpose buildings, public kiosks, bike parking, increased green landscaping and public art.

The final workshop, held at Olympic High School, focused on the Ocean Park and Sunset Park areas and emphasized suggestions for Lincoln Boulevard, which resident Bruria Finkel described as “stinkin’ Lincoln.” Community recommendations included removing parking during peak hours, using alleys for parking, improving the greenscape, having more traffic lanes for northbound traffic in the morning and more southbound lanes for traffic in the afternoon, additional crosswalks and a shuttle service. As in the case of the Pico and Wilmont/Mid-City areas, suggestions also included shared parking areas, underground parking, wider sidewalks, better lighting and dedicated bus lanes. The participants also asked for more outdoor dining and an arts complex, and viewed the Albertson’s market site as an opportunity for multi-use, pocket parks, a large public plaza and mixed-income housing.

Sunset Park resident Nancy Power told the Mirror after the workshop, “I think the process is fantastic. It’s highly important to have a community voice in planning. I felt my voice was heard.”

Former Mayor Michael Feinstein, a longtime resident of Ocean Park, disagreed. He said there should have been “more time for public discussion at the tables.”

Another resident said it is going to be “tough for Fogerty to rally the public’s interest after years of being jerked around by the previous planning regime.”

In an interview with the Mirror, City Associate Planner Peter James stated that a workshop for the North of Montana residents was unnecessary since the main goal for that area is to “protect the single family home district.”

On May 7, a community-wide workshop will be held to discuss the themes heard at the interactive workshops and determine what can be done in the short term. At the final workshop, Fogerty noted, “In the end, all of the pieces will come together in a comprehensive strategy.”

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