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City Council Report: LUCE, Expo, and Urinals Considered:

The just-released Draft Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) of the City’s general plan was presented to the City Council Tuesday evening, November 24, though no action was taken on the matter. On a separate subject, the Council voted to approve, with amendment, a recommendation that the City Manager proceed to negotiate terms for the siting and construction of an Expo Light Rail maintenance facility with some-would-say substantial accommodations for the Pico Neighborhood. Also presented to the Council were plans for new beach restrooms whose urinal-less design may, or may not, say something about Santa Monica’s status on the cutting edge of American culture.

Expo Maintenance Facility

As nearly everyone in Santa Monica knows by now, the Exposition Light Rail line from downtown Los Angeles is coming to town – Phase 1 from L.A. to Culver City is now under construction, and Phase 2 out to Santa Monica (probably 4th Street and Colorado Avenue) is in the environmental review process. And as nearly everyone in at least the Pico Neighborhood knows, Phase 2 will almost certainly include an equipment maintenance facility east of Stewart Street between Exposition Boulevard on the south and the new Expo tracks on the north (the old Red Car right-of-way, behind the Lantana Entertainment Media Campus on Olympic Boulevard).

There has been considerable objection to the siting of this facility so close to a residential neighborhood, as there are homes beginning just across the street on Exposition. Such decisions are made by the Exposition Construction Authority (Expo), which will build the system, in consultation with the operations group at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), which will operate the system. The City of Santa Monica can only make recommendations.

Pico residents and the City Manager as directed by the City Council have been urging Expo and Metro to build the maintenance shop somewhere else or, failing that, to build it in such a way as to minimize its impact on the neighborhood, including noise, vibration, air quality, and aesthetics.

Kathryn Vernez, Assistant to the City Manager, reported to the Council Thursday night on the City’s discussions with Expo. The highlights were:

• Despite extensive review, moving the shop to another location seems out of the question;

• Discussions continue on using adjacent Santa Monica College (SMC) land as well as the contemplated Verizon property so that the facility can be designed with a 100-foot buffer between most of it and the neighborhood (this would probably involve a land exchange among Expo, SMC, and the City);

• The paint and body shop would be eliminated, although a light duty repair shop would remain, and loop tracks would be eliminated to avoid “wheel squeal”;

• Some functions would be relocated to the north end of the property near the tracks and away from the neighborhood, and various noise-muffling measures and directional lighting would be employed;

• Expo will construct a sound wall prior to any major construction, will pursue a LEED certification for the facility, and will work with neighbors regarding site development and aesthetics.

Vernez introduced Expo CEO Rick Thorpe and Metro Deputy CEO Paul Taylor, who expressed their willingness to work with the City and Pico residents on the project.

Public comment ran the gamut from those who wanted to see the public transit project move forward as quickly as possible to the greater number of Pico residents who continued to object to any such shop in their neighborhood, including one who told the Council he “thought you represented all of Santa Monica and not just people north of Wilshire and south of Ocean Park Boulevard” and another who said the project “indicates the neighborhood is of no value to you or the City except as a dumping ground.”

In the end, the Council adopted the City Manager’s recommendations and authorized him to proceed with the negotiations now underway, including the Expo/SMC/City land swap and the reservation of up to $2 million in a future budget for the development of the buffer land (which would become City property) as a possible park. The Council added an amendment directing City staff to work as mediators/liaisons to improve communications between Expo and residents.

Draft LUCE Presented

As reported elsewhere in the Mirror, the City released the Draft LUCE on November 18, and Director of Planning and Community Development Eileen Fogarty made a formal presentation of the plan to the City Council at its November 24 meeting.

Mayor Pro Tem Pam O’Connor called the draft a “milestone” and referred to Fogarty’s presentation as a “curtain raiser” inasmuch as the Council was really only viewing the plan and took no vote, with the hard work of breaking it down and debating the particulars still to come.

Fogarty’s summary stressed the work done by her department incorporating the Council’s directives from 2008, including general reductions in allowable building heights, the derogation of retail uses designed to serve a regional market in favor of housing and local retail/service uses, and the further integration of land use with transportation. She noted that the plan represented a “significant reduction in commercial growth” as compared to the City’s earlier plan and a “small reduction in residential growth.”

Public comment included kudos from Nina Fresco of the Landmarks Commission (“awesome”), Donna Sternberg of the Arts Commission, who applauded LUCE for its inclusion of material from the Creative Capital Plan, and Susan Cloke of the Recreation and Parks Commission (“captures both the spirit and character of Santa Monica”). Both the public and the councilmembers generally praised the openness and inclusiveness of the process by which the Draft LUCE was developed and the process built into the plan for considering future development.

Fogarty said the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) will be released in early January, to be followed by public review, workshops, responses to the DEIR, hearings, and final City Council vote in May 2010. Public comments are encouraged to [email protected]

. . . And the Urinals

The Community and Cultural Services Department presented the proposed concept design for the replacement of seven beach restroom facilities to be constructed between Labor Day 2010 and Memorial Day 2011 – essentially a show-and-tell session for the Council (no vote) before finalizing designs and taking the plans to the Architectural Review Board and then back to the Council for approval.

After reviewing artist renderings and floor plans showing identical men’s and women’s facilities, handicapped stalls, and the like, Councilmember Robert Holbrook noted that the floor plans showed no urinals and asked why. Department Assistant Director Karen Ginsberg replied that the City had “gone to an individual stall design” and had not included urinals in new park restrooms in years. She later told the Mirror that this was the case in at least Virginia Avenue Park, Airport Park, Joslyn Park, Reed Park, and Palisades Park.

In the discussion that followed, Councilmember Gleam Davis questioned providing the same number of stalls for men and women, noting that women take longer getting in and out of their swimsuits than men require. Someone recalled that there had been an issue some years ago with women using men’s facilities when women’s were all occupied, and Holbrook allowed as how he would be willing to sacrifice some men’s stall space for more compact urinals.

There was nothing to vote on, and the Council moved to its next agenda item. But this reporter recalled and later found an April 2000 magazine piece in The Spectator in which Jasper Gerard reported, “Young Swedish women now demand that their men use the lavatory in a strictly sedentary posture – partly, I am told, for reasons of hygiene, but, more crucially, because a man standing up to urinate is deemed to be triumphing in his masculinity and, by extension, degrading women.” Gerard quoted Jessica, a 31-year-old biologist from Uppsala, “Among the young, leftish intelligentsia there is also a view that to stand is a nasty macho gesture.”

Far be it from this reporter to suggest . . . But Gerard did observe, “Perhaps we in Britain could afford to ignore all this, were Sweden not the testing-ground – as California is in America – for the mores likely to sweep the rest of Europe.”

The City Council meets next on Tuesday, December 8 and has cancelled its regularly scheduled December 22 meeting due to an anticipated lack of a quorum.

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