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Planning A Sustainable City:

We’re all hearing a lot about sustainability these days; but what does this really mean and how can we apply sustainability principles when developing a vision for Santa Monica’s future growth? This was the subject of a panel discussion at the Santa Monica Main Library with the Chair of Santa Monica’s Planning Commission, architect and engineer Gwynne Pugh, architect and member of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), Dimitris Klapsis, and the City of Santa Monica’s Director of Planning and Community Development, Eileen Fogerty.

Pugh noted at the November 9 panel that sustainability is “not just about the environment. Its also about economics and social justice. We need to think about regenerating our environment.” The key issues are project sites (whether to reuse older buildings or build new ones), how to handle open space, transportation issues, water usage, energy usage, how we use materials, and indoor air quality. Individuals need to change their mindset and their daily habits and incentives need to be created to reward sustainable behaviors.

Klapsis pointed out that much of the urban sprawl in the U.S. resulted from the Highway Act and GI Bill that were enacted after World War II. These days many family transportation budgets are larger than food budgets and long commutes mean that people have less time for other activities.

According to Klapsis, no growth can also create problems. He noted that such a policy in Santa Barbara resulted in housing prices increasing, rents increasing, affordable housing disappearing, increased traffic, and longer commutes. He then advocated for utilizing smart growth principles.

These principles include preserving open space, having mixed-use development, using compact building design, creating a range of housing opportunities and choices, creating walkable neighborhoods, providing a variety of transit choices, encouraging a community and its stakeholders to collaborate on development decisions, and making development decisions that are predictable, fair and cost effective.

Klapsis also mentioned that the USGBC which makes LEED (Leadership, Energy & Environmental Design) certifications would begin a Neighborhood Design certification program next week to encourage development that reduces urban sprawl and strengthens neighborhood patterns.

Santa Monica’s Planning and Community Development Director pointed out that Santa Monica has the most LEED certified buildings per capita in the U.S. The City is in the final stages of updating its Land Use and Circulation Elements (LUCE) and its “vision supports the City’s economic sustainability, jobs creation, carbon emissions reduction, and the responsibility to improve the quality of life in Santa Monica for this generation and for those who will follow.”

Fogarty noted that the LUCE update incorporates integrated land use and transportation strategies and is calling for “no net new (car) trips” when new developments are created. The LUCE also requires that new development beyond the base provide exceptional benefits to the community. The community will also have controls and ways to measure the success of implementing the LUCE. The Planning Commission will begin discussing a draft of the LUCE update on November 18.

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