The City’s Director of Planning and Community Development, Eileen Fogarty, presented an introduction of some of the key elements of the Draft LUCE to the Planning Commission at a study session on November 18. City Council member Kevin McKeown who is a Council Liaison to the Commission stated at the meeting’s beginning “the key issue people need to understand is there will be no decisions made in this process until early next year.” This is just a study session.
One area that drew a lot of questions was the subject of affordable and workforce housing. Commissioner Jim Ries stressed that the community supported having more of this type of housing because they wanted residents and those who work in Santa Monica to have priority for it. He was concerned that “fair housing laws would make that difficult.”
Commissioner Gwynne Pugh echoed Ries by noting that hospital officials have come before the Commission to express their desire to have more workforce housing available for their staff. They were especially concerned about staffing their hospital in an emergency if their staff has to commute from a long distance to the City. He also noted that if more City residents can work in the City traffic congestion would be reduced.
Fogarty explained that the LUCE allows for incentives to be included in the approvals of new housing projects for affordable and workforce housing.
Another area that was discussed was what steps could be taken to avoid having projects be approved before the City’s zoning laws are updated based on the new LUCE. Commissioner Jay Johnson stated that if something wasn’t done, projects would move forward “under the old rules and we would be setting ourselves up for another four-year build-out for things that happened under the old zoning ordinance.”
Barry Rosenbaum, the City’s Land Use attorney responded that this could be dealt with by the City Council passing an interim ordinance to set deadlines as to which codes a project would have to comply with.
Also of major concern was building heights. Commission Chair Hank Koning wanted assurance that the LUCE was flexible in this area.
Pugh, who is an architect and urban planner, was worried that stringent height restrictions could result in “mediocre architecture.” He wanted to make sure the Commission understood the consequences of building height limits.
Fogarty, the City’s Planning Director, noted that the LUCE had a few feet of flexibility for building heights and then stressed “the plan is 96 percent at or below existing parameters and is a conservation plan.”
Pugh also asked how the plan would ensure the City could get good quality architecture projects that serve the community from developers. Fogarty responded that the Final LUCE would explain to developers what is expected from them and the City would also have the choice of whether to approve or disapprove their projects based on the LUCE and zoning code requirements.
Commissioners also questioned whether the LUCE planned appropriately for the Subway to the Sea which would have several stops on Wilshire Boulevard. Fogarty pointed out that the document allows for several activity centers to be located near where the subway stops are proposed. These centers would include retail and other services commuters and others need.
City Council member Pam O’Connor, who is also a Council Liaison to the Commission, mentioned that at this time the subway wouldn’t be in operation until 2036, impying that LUCE isn’t as relevant to it. This is because LUCE is focuses on development strategies for the City over the next 20 years.