Our city landscape could be about to rise with the developers of two buildings submitting plans — one for a 22 story tower designed by Frank Gehry in downtown Santa Monica, and the Miramar proposing a 21 floor tower. These are the high parts of this story.
The mighty is our Planning Commission and City Council that has the power to alter height limits on new buildings. The General Plan was revised in 2010 that now allows developers to ask for different things as they propose a new building. For example, they can request an exemption to height limits in exchange for such trade-offs as child care provisions, parks, or other worthy public benefits.
The city could be caught between the carrots of the developers and the sticks of Santa Monica’s wary residents who worry that these plans may be approved after eliminating only a few stories, while still leaving them high enough to cause all of the problems that a tall building creates.
If this should happen, would the City Council have us believe that they are genuinely committed to preserving the unique charms of the city to which they have been entrusted?
Are the goalposts being slowly moved over the years to allow for exceptions to our past vision of a lower profile on our horizon? Too many exemptions to the rules eventually morph into rules becoming the exception. And with this trend, we are witnessing increasingly blocked views and sunlight from bigger structures and higher buildings, and most detrimental of all — the horrific increase in traffic.
Tradeoffs with developers may look enticing at first blush, but they don’t always benefit our citizens as much as they do the developers. Then the law of unintended consequences kicks in when we discover too late that our capitulations to big projects create a density that is fast becoming unsustainable to our small town of only eight square miles. Santa Monica has grown taller and denser and more congested, even as the permanent population has declined.
Too many businesses moving here have created massive traffic snarls during the day, while residents must either devise a route to go north even if their destination is south, or to just stay home. Some say the debilitating traffic is also caused by surrounding towns, but one only has to observe Wilshire traffic from early afternoon on to see that people are often moving at a snail’s pace going east as they leave their Santa Monica jobs, while inbound cars from west Los Angeles usually move steadily along.
Our city is inexorably losing its special charm, relentlessly being transformed into a landscape that is increasingly overcrowded and too often brought to a standstill by gridlock. We all appreciate that businesses expand our tax base, but there is a tipping point that we may have already passed where too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing.
We are a green town, and getting greener by the day. But the green that we seem to value the most is not the color of grass but the color of money. The Beatles once wrote that “money can’t buy me love.” Sadly, the powers that be may not appreciate this notion. But a special seaside town such as ours can retain that je ne sais quoi character only if it is treated with the careful planning and respect that it deserves. Measured growth is good; growth with ever taller and denser structures is eroding the charm of Santa Monica as relentlessly as those endless tides are tugging at our sands.