In July, after a lengthy process that took more than six years and included extensive community input, Santa Monica updated the Land Use and Circulation Elements (LUCE) of its general plan. After the dust has settled, questions still remain about the cost of such an arduous undertaking.
Eileen Fogarty, the City’s director of planning and development said the known cost of the process to the City was $2,355,004. This total included consulting fees, community outreach, and the production and layout of all the documents. This total does not include the time city staff spent on the project, the printing costs incurred during the project, nor does it include the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
Fogarty estimated that the printing costs were a few thousand dollars for the limited number of lengthy (more than 500 pages each) key publications such as the Strategy Framework that were produced during the process. The total for the EIR was $421,000 which included the consultant analysis for the Draft EIR and the Final EIR document.
The city’s approach to the update was to hire top-notch consultants rather than to hire additional city staff to work on the process, Fogarty explained. This helped ensure the level “of detail and specificity” in the final document. However, Fogarty and her staff put many of their own hours into the process. Most of these hours were overtime and since Fogarty and her staff are salaried employees and don’t keep track of their project hours, she could only estimate the number of hours they put in. She herself was sometimes working 70- to 80-hour weeks and guessed about two-thirds of her overtime was spent on the LUCE. These long hours occurred especially for a few months prior to the release of the key project documents such as the “Strategy Framework” and the “Draft LUCE.” Two of her staff members – Special Projects Manager Jing Yeo and Senior Planner Peter James – said they spent about 50 percent of their overtime hours on the process.
When detailing the costs, Fogarty broke the process into three distinct phases. The first phase was from 2004 through the beginning of September 2006, which was before Fogarty began working with the City. The cost for this phase was $559,227 and included the initial community outreach, establishing the existing conditions, and the release of the “Opportunities and Challenges Report.” It was during this phase that the former planning and community development director, Suzanne Frick, left the City, which caused the process to be halted for about eight months until Fogarty started in September of 2006. She said her qualifications for continuing the work on the LUCE were a “major part of her interview with the City.”
The second phase began at the end of September 2006 and ended in July of 2008 and concluded with the “Strategy Framework.” This phase cost $1,145,120 and included 13 community workshops, 60 community meetings, as well as multiple meetings with the Planning Commission and the City Council.
The final phase cost $650,657 and resulted in the “Draft LUCE” and the “Final LUCE.” Fogarty stressed that, “Santa Monica is a city of tremendous community involvement” and in order to answer all the community’s questions, as well as those from the Planning Commission and City Council, “a great level of detail” and analysis was necessary during the process. This resulted in some urban design scenarios that normally would not have been done until the urban zoning stage in other cities. There was also a lot of in depth work on the stations for the Expo Light Rail, City activity centers, and the Transportation Demand Management models, as well as the LUCE’s goals of housing, floor heights, no net new trips, developer community benefits, and other topics.
Fogarty also mentioned that Santa Monica’s cost for the LUCE, $2,355,004, was “within the ballpark” of cities of comparative size in the state which have undertaken similar projects. West Hollywood, Ontario, and Newport Beach each spent $2 million, and Richmond spent $2.5 million.
Planning Commissioner Jay Johnson stated that because of the cost of the consultants he expected “first class professional opinions from them.” In the end, he was “happy with the quality of the consultants with one exception.” In his view, the expense of the consultants was worth it because their work resulted in a top quality product based upon all the awards” it has received.
The Draft LUCE received recognition from several organizations according to Fogarty, because the plan “broke new ground.” The Southern California Association of Governments gave the document the Compass Blueprint Sustainable Leadership Award. The document received the David Cameron Award from the Santa Monica Conservancy “for preserving Santa Monica’s unique heritage, and for promoting the value of historic preservation in the city.” Lastly, the American Planning Association, Los Angeles Section recognized the Draft LUCE in the category of Comprehensive Plan – Small Jurisdiction. Fogarty noted that this recognition has resulted in the LUCE being “a model for other jurisdictions.” She has been receiving requests from across the state and country to explain how the LUCE “tied land use and circulation together.”
Fogarty and her staff are currently working on the LUCE based interim zoning standards which they will be bringing forward in a couple of months.