RIFT, which then became Prop T, may have a somewhat altered appearance right now when viewed through the special glasses of our economic crisis. Specifically, whither our need for development limitations if the economy is going to be so crummy for the next five years we won’t be struggling with over-development in the short term?
Santa Monica, while not inflation or recession-proofed by any means, will still enjoy a steady flow of Euro money from tourists riding the shrinking U.S. dollar all the way to a big juicy steak in one of our huge corporate beach front hotels that are (sigh…) never going away. And all those visitors will theoretically utilize retail development even if they never rent any of our new office space. Still, knowing that the Schmidt family is visiting from Germany may not bring you much comfort if you’re an electrician or a contractor. So you’d be against any new construction limitations, especially specific ones, on new commercial development in Santa Monica.
Somebody’s certainly against it since by one estimate nearly a half million dollars has been collected to fight RIFT/Prop T. Prop T advocates claim that 15 of 37 supporters of the fight against T are concerns based outside our city. So any advertising or messages you might see insisting that the Prop T opponents are only thinking of what’s best for our town might ring a tad hollow.
Prop T, from the City of Santa Monica’s web site: “Shall the City’s General Plan be amended through 2023 to establish a City-wide annual limit on commercial development of 75,000 square feet, which: would apply to the types of projects that required City Council or Planning Commission approval on 1/16/08; would not apply to specified uses such as residential, parking, hospitals, schools, care and government facilities; and would allow for borrowing from future years if the five-year average stays within the limit?”
I’m not qualified to argue the specific merits of the 75,000 figure, but I think it’s reasonable to assume that those of us whose hearts sink each time we pass a new design-starved development in Santa Monica would like for the city to have some braking mechanism it could pump against oncoming development. Prop T is specific and represents a kind of “tough love” for our city. And anytime proposals get down and get into specifics… there’s resistance.
Correct me if I have any of this wrong: When, say, a five story multi-use project goes through, don’t the contractors, land owners, and all the related construction companies make money way before Tenant One even enters the new building? Put another way: Those things that got built on Main Street at Bicknell: Are the empty storefronts there returning revenue to the city at this moment?
Prop T opponents argue that the city will be hurting for services funds if there’s a restriction on development such as T. Councilman Kevin McKeown pointed out in a commentary in this newspaper that “watchdog” city residents believe “millions of dollars in past traffic mitigation fees may have been left uncollected, while developers built huge office complexes that have congested our streets. If Prop. T were really a threat to funding for essential city services, wouldn’t City Hall have been more thorough about collecting past revenues?”
All of this is fuel on the fire before you even get to a basic, root feeling on growth. Many citizens seem to feel that Santa Monica is no longer a charming beach town, and I can see where long time residents might have that perspective. But that doesn’t become license to allow growth for growth and money’s sake. When it’s time to talk about schools, no one is heard arguing that the battle is lost so there’s no point in fighting for improvement. Would we care deeply and responsibly about the quality of our kid’s education, and then throw up our hands on the environment and quality of the city in which we and our children all live? I don’t think so.
Some might notice that I haven’t even mentioned traffic yet. Maybe there was a Trojan Horse quality to the way Prop T got on the ballot as a traffic initiative. But why did that work? Because with growth, more is always more and worsening traffic is a given, as is walking downtown and suddenly realizing that a new building now blocks out your view of the beach and the setting sun from a spot where you could previously take it all in. Does that matter? It might to the Schmidts who, while eager to cruise the chain stores of the Promenade, later find they are asking for directions back to the beach because they can’t see the beach or even their big corporate hotel from where they’re now standing.