In what may be the longest-running, on-going, fully transparent, participatory political process on record, the City of Santa Monica last week released the “Preliminary Draft Edition of the Land Use and Circulation Element” of the City’s general plan.
The Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) is the largest and most controversial piece of the City’s first comprehensive revision of its general plan in roughly 25 years. It will guide zoning regulations, real estate and other economic development, transportation improvements, and in some ways even the area’s social and cultural direction for the next 20 years or so. The November 18 release is the latest step in the LUCE process, which began five years ago and will continue at least well into 2010.
But this event is more than a bump in a long road; it represents a major milestone.
The Long Road
“The process of engaging the community [in LUCE] was started in 2004 and was extensive, far-reaching and inclusive,” as set forth in the 17-page executive summary of the November 18 draft in a statement that might be downplaying the outreach efforts. “The public involvement intensified starting in the spring of 2007,” notes the draft.
After a very great many “community workshops, reports, internet and phone surveys, walking tours, PowerPoint presentations, and televised discussions at the Planning Commission and before the City Council,” a LUCE Strategy Framework was endorsed by the Council in July 2008 with directions to City staff to refine certain issues and proceed to prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR).
The November 18 Draft LUCE is the staff’s response to those directions and represents the first full text version of this element of the general plan. It runs well over 400 pages, without the appendix; The Santa MonicaMirror cannot report the exact length without considerable difficulty because it has been paginated separately by chapter, or even by sub-chapter. It is available for viewing and downloading (by chapter or sub-chapter) at shapethefuture2025.net.
The Road Ahead
The Draft LUCE was released in advance of the Draft EIR “to provide the community with the opportunity to become familiar with the strategies, goals and policies of the LUCE,” according to Eileen Fogarty, Director of Planning and Community Development. It was presented to the Planning Commission on Wednesday, November 18, and to the City Council on Tuesday, November 24, both of these being non-voting “study session” presentations.
The Draft EIR is expected in January 2010, to be followed by a 45-day comment period and then preparation of a Final EIR, with public comments, updates, and Planning Commission and City Council hearings along the way.
The scope of the Draft LUCE released last week and the potential impact it may have on Santa Monica in the coming decades is suggested by a listing of what the document calls “the major LUCE goals and policies at a glance”
•Conserve Existing Neighborhoods
•Manage Transportation/Reducing Congestion
•Increase Open Space
•Create a Sustainable Economy
•Require Community Benefits
•Ensure Quality Design and Urban Form
•Preserve Historic Resources
•The LUCE’s Approach to Sustainability and Climate Change
As Santa Monicans – citizens, councilmembers, and City staff alike – digest this ambitious magnum opus over the coming few months, it might be well to focus on a question that Councilmember Bobby Shriver put to the planning staff during the summer of 2008. Recognizing that every comprehensive plan of any kind involves trade-offs, that some desirable goals are sacrificed or at least trimmed down in order to achieve or maximize other desirable goals, Shriver wanted to know, “What is it that LUCE does not do?” because that may give us the clearest understanding of the choices we are making.