Class stratification doesn’t have to be part of the dialogue about every single thing in America. Or does it? You can certainly point to a lot of on-going problems and argue that because those who can do, those who can’t are left holding the bag. With something as serious as education, one might argue that when more “haves” put their children in private schools, public systems suffer. Moving to something not quite as critical but certainly troubling, you can point to how the experience of air travel in coach continues to deteriorate while the ride up front in first class is still pretty nice.
But again, I’m not sure that growing disparities in America are necessarily a part of every problem. While the causes of it might ultimately be related to the “haves” having more, the Gulf oil spill has been very democratic in terms of ruining both the economically strapped shorelines of Louisiana and the more stratified beaches of Florida. The loss of environments and species will be losses shared by all. Automobile traffic in Southern California is fair to all by way of being equally frustrating to both the aged Honda Civic and the new Bentley. And Disneyland is too freaking expensive for everybody.
The hearings on the Draft Land Use and Circulation Element (Draft LUCE), “a comprehensive community plan created with the ideas, vision, and energy of thousands of Santa Monicans” as stated on the city’s web site, provide a chance for voices to be heard. Considerations and input from a wide spectrum of viewpoints, folded into the city’s General Plan and guiding Santa Monica’s development for the next 20 years.
An e-mail circulated by the Ocean Park Association (OPA) alerted me to the fact that among potential LUCE adjustments might be one that would save a trailer park and preserve the housing it provides, rather than have it flattened to make way for office buildings and condos. I’ve also been assured by sources that the LUCE compels development above 32 feet in height to generate public benefits and that a primary benefit is affordable housing… and that affordable housing will continue to be a priority.
So there’s reason to believe that we’re looking out for everybody in the guidelines of LUCE. Conserving historic areas, paying attention to open areas, make pedestrian friendly “streetscapes”… these are all things anybody would want. Maintaining our city as a destination and potential home address for all… that matters too.
The numbers on those who make a living in our city compared to those who live here are still startling even though they are generally known by now following our “living wage” struggles. Mirror reporter Hannah Heineman’s June 17 coverage on LUCE hearings included the comment from city consultant Paul Silvern that 83 percent of employees who work in Santa Monica reside someplace else. And that only about 32 percent of those who live in the city work in Santa Monica. I’m going to take a shot in the dark here and posit that there’s a relationship between these numbers and homes costing more than a half million dollars.
We’re a city that could potentially become less open without necessarily longing for that to be the case. From my little fort here on the pages of The Mirror, I’ve sounded the bugle about such things as the price of the ride tickets at Pacific Park. Does that one narrow element indicate we’re pricing lower income families off of the Pier? I can’t prove that; I can only become anxious about it.
When I ponder the still very public nature of our beaches and pier, I relax a little bit. Then I remember that we’re surrounded on all sides by communities that have consciously narrowed their open arms. Bel Air has gates around it and Rodeo Drive makes its own comedy gravy just by being there, although that sort of silliness has been the target of ridicule going back to “The Beverly Hillbillies” and the Marx Brothers before that.
It’s the subtler transformations that concern me, although I believe there has been serious good effort to have the LUCE function as a tool and measuring device that will, among many other things, sustain openness in our city and a quality of life that simply makes good sense. So why would there be fear that now there’s going to be some amount of tampering with LUCE? That there will exemptions and changes … and that LUCE will get a little loose…?
Because somebody always wants something. And your ceiling on growth might not be mine. Exactly how big is our appetite for medium and low income housing that could potentially turn some of Mr. Silvern’s numbers around? Home owner groups logically want to restrain development, keeping building heights down and sticking to LUCE rather than stretching it to accommodate designs for something like the Bergamot Transit Center Village. But building that train station in such a way that it can properly accommodate the volume of all citizens wanting safe, green transportation to our cooling beaches in the summer would be a key in keeping Santa Monica an open city. Let’s value and follow LUCE and honor all the effort that went into it, as we also sustain an open city of Santa Monica.