The current economic downturn has caused an increase in vacancies on all the commercial corridors throughout Santa Monica.
Planning Commissioner Jay Johnson pointed out the “City is losing sales tax revenue as a function of declining occupancy of our commercial spaces” at the Planning Commission’s October 7 meeting. He also mentioned that there are new businesses that would like to occupy the vacant spaces but commercial brokers are frustrated because the City will not permit certain uses. He called for the City to be more flexible in its permitting processes for small businesses.
The City Council liaison to the Commission, Kevin McKeown, stated that from a Council point of view there was a “question as to whether changing the City’s zoning is an appropriate solution for an economic recession.” He emphasized that, “a temporary change in process that leads to variances has to be done with the recognition that the process may be temporary but the variance will be permanent.” This permanent nature could mean that the character of the area where a new use would be permitted by a variance could be changed for many years.
Also participating in the discussion was Gary Gordon, the Executive Director of Main Street Business Improvement Association. He told the Commission that there are a variety of disincentives that are negatively impacting small businesses owners who want to open a business on Main Street as well as businesses already open on Main Street. Among them were that an empty storefront must be rented for the same use in six months or that use could change. Elsewhere in the City the timeframe is 12 months. There are also restrictions on the number of restaurants permitted per block in part of his district. Parking problems also are commonplace for small business employees as well as customers. He also submitted a more extensive list of issues to the Commission.
Jennibi, who owns the Euphoria loves Rawvolution café on Main Street called for the City to create a Small Business Liaison to help people like herself navigate all the City rules that govern small business operation in the City.
The Commission decided to have City staff report back to them on what changes could be made quickly and easily and also examine what changes would be addressed in the City’s update of Land Use and Circulation Elements of its General Plan. Commission Chair Hank Koning asked staff to examine ways to permit the display of outdoor merchandise and more ways to use signage in addition to the items on Gordon’s list.