October 26, 2020 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Letters to the Editor:

The word is out! Monday night the Landmarks Commission did the wrong thing and approved a new construction project at 2642 Second Street which has no resemblance to the vast majority of contributing historic buildings in the Third Street Neighborhood Historic District.

The Commission sent a message, loud and clear, that now is an opportune time to buy and create terrific building and development sites in our town’s only Historic District. The District is a few blocks from the beach. It is next to Main Street. What could be better?

You can build anything you want. Under the auspices of the current Landmarks Commission, the District Design Guidelines will be stretched to accommodate. The defining characteristics of the District, which the Guidelines are intended to protect, will simply be ignored.

The history and story of early Santa Monica, which the District was created to preserve, is unimportant to the current Landmarks Commissioners. The Commission’s historian can never vote on District matters because he owns property nearby. No historical cultural, social, or political perspective is allowed to influence Commission deliberations.

The opinions of the Commission’s only architectural historian are not heard. Her pleas to consider the impact of projects on the fabric of this tiny two-block District and on future precedent are unheeded.

Under the current Landmarks Commission the Historic District is all and only about architecture and the personal architectural preferences of the Commissioners. Arcane design details that professional architects love but visitors to and residents of the District could never identify are sliced and diced to support claims that large, shoebox buildings are compatible with the graceful, multi-faceted style and flavor of the neighborhood’s old turn- of-the-century beach bungalows. Details such as right angles, stepbacks, windows, and use of stucco and wood (presumably versus stainless steel) are used by project applicants and their architects to explain how shoebox projects look like the old historic buildings in the District!

It is now clear that if you can get four Commissioners to find in your favor, you can do whatever you want in the Historic District. You can move an old bungalow for any reason and then create a bigger building site for a shoebox. You can ask to build a shoebox, and as long as one or more of the three architects on the Landmarks Commission can describe your project as “elegant, refined, and understated,” you can build that too. By the way, there is no reference in the District Design Guidelines to “elegant, refined, or understated.” These are not defining characteristics of the District. These are the standards the Commission used on Monday evening to approve the project at 2642 Second Street.

So come one, come all, the Historic District is now up for grabs. In January the Commission may review the notoriously controversial set of cantilevered shoeboxes proposed for 2617 Third Street in the District’s heart (that is, if the project applicant does not again continue it). The Commission will once again have a chance to do the right thing. Given its performance at Monday night’s meeting, the outcome is scary. The project architect for 2617 Third is a powerful figure in our small town. He heads the Architectural Review Board. He has managed to build projects all over Ocean Park which defy the Ocean Park Design Guidelines, the projects at the northwest corner of Raymond and Sixth and east of Second on the north side of Ocean Park Boulevard being the most notable and recent examples.

With no historian, a silenced architectural historian, and three architects on the Landmarks Commission reviewing architectural plans and ignoring the story, history, and character of the Historic District, do you think the Landmarks Commission will do the right thing in January?

Bea Nemlaha, Resident and Early Organizer of Third Street Neighborhood Historic District

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Dear Chief Jackman,

I was on the critical mass bike ride on Friday and think that the Santa Monica police were engaging in police harassment towards bicyclists. If that many police cars tailed and flanked a different minority group, say, bingo players or break dancers, looking for someone in that group to make a tiny infraction and then giving them a citation, it would be called harassment. And that’s exactly what it was on Friday night. Most of the people riding bikes that night were young, mostly students in universities. People who can’t easily afford an expensive ticket for not having a bright enough light on the front of their bikes (as I saw one person receive a ticket for, even though he had a small white LED light on the front) or not fully putting their foot down at a stop sign in the middle of a large group of bicyclists.

Santa Monica is supposed to be committed to a greener profile. How is harassing bicyclists going to help that? Downtown Santa Monica is very challenging for a bicyclist to ride through. With the new bus lanes, it’s unclear where a bike is supposed to be. We know we’re not meant to be on the sidewalk, but it’s nerve-wracking in the narrow lanes full of buses and cars. Yes, there are lovely bike designated lanes on the smaller streets running parallel to Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards, but only a very relaxed recreational rider or a lawbreaker would choose those routes because you have to come to a full stop at the end of every block. It takes a lot of energy to get a bike going again after a full stop and if a person is actually using a bike to get somewhere, i.e. commuting to a job, they are not going to take such a slow and labor-intensive route. Or they will do what many bicyclists choose to do, roll through the stop if there isn’t a car in the cross street. What’s a bicyclist to do? The options are lousy. I think that people should be encouraged to ride into and around Santa Monica as much as possible. Not only in keeping with the “green profile,” but because bikes take up much less space so parking and traffic is not such an issue.

Well, I guess one of the best ways of keeping as many people in their cars and clogging up the roads and the air is to have your police officers specifically target a group of healthy, energetic citizens riding non-polluting, quiet, and space-saving bicycles and make it so unpleasant that next time they come to Santa Monica they drive a car.

I wonder if you could hear the cheer that went up when we crossed the border into Los Angeles and were no longer followed by your harassment squad.

Respectfully, but sadly,

Kristina Olsen, Venice

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