Gwynne Pugh, former Santa Monica Planning Commissioner, soccer coach, architect, engineer, and urbanist is the third Santa Monica public leader in this series of interviews with Santa Monica political thinkers.
This series is an opportunity for people to hear each other and to expand the dialogue. Previous columns featured Patricia Hoffman, co-chair of Santa Monicans for Renters Rights; and Patricia Bauer, co-vice chair of the North of Montana Association.
To read previous columns in this series go to:
Often seen around town on his bicycle, Pugh began our interview talking about the future of cycling in Santa Monica.
Is your bike your first transportation choice? Talk about what it’s like to ride in traffic, how you choose routes, what being a cyclist does to your perspective on the City.
Unfortunately my bike is not my first transportation choice, partly because I need to use the car for business. In London, cycling was my first choice of transportation because it worked best.
I grew up cycling in London, Paris, Athens and Istanbul, cities where traffic is a lot crazier than it is here. So I’m 100 percent comfortable with riding in cities.
I am concerned about bike safety in Santa Monica because of all the conflicts – joggers down the centerline, walkers that don’t stay to the right, etc.
As a cyclist my perspective has to be that I am the responsible one. I watch for everyone and assume that I am not visible to others. It’s both defensive riding and assertive riding.
For cycling to really work as a transportation choice in Santa Monica we need to get to critical mass. Bike riders, motorists and walkers all need to pay attention to each other and to acknowledge each other. That is starting to happen in Santa Monica and will happen more and more as more and more urban cyclists are on the city streets.
As a Planning Commissioner you were key to the LUCE (Land Use and Circulation Element) discussion. What do you think now about the LUCE, the process, and the benefits to the City?
I think the process, which went in fits and starts, a six-year process with various stall points, was re-energized when Eileen Fogarty (City Planning Director 2006-11) came. She and Lamont Ewell (City Manager 2006-09) went out into the community in an intense listening process. What was developed out of it was a very smart plan. It protected the neighborhoods and addressed the issues of traffic head on understanding that traffic could not be allowed to increase. The LUCE established that there could be no new net peak PM trips.
The LUCE addressed issues of economic viability, social justice, and sustainability. Doing so in part by directing development to the Downtown, Bergamot and the Boulevards.
In the early ‘90’s buildings in the industrial zones in Santa Monica got repurposed to house software technology and film industry companies. As a consequence we became job rich.
In mid-2000 the City population was about 85,000. The population increased during the work week to about 150,000 as about 60,000 people came into the City for work or business and students came to Santa Monica College and tourists come to the City. On weekends that number grew to 250,000.
Development in the LUCE was planned to balance the jobs rich and housing poor ratio facing the city and contributing to our traffic problems.
Are there stumbling blocks to implementing the LUCE vision of the City?
I think Eileen was a person that people in the community trusted. There was a process in the City that made it difficult for her to stay on and that created a problem for the implementation of the LUCE.
People got upset and scared when they saw development starting up again. Development had been stalled by the recession as well as by waiting on the completion of the LUCE. The backlog has led to many projects at all once and that has given people pause.
Additionally, the City decided to follow the Development Agreement process over other planning tools until all the implementation of the LUCE was complete. We need to use all the tools in the planning toolbox and not use a Development Agreement for every project.
Major projects need a high level of public scrutiny. Other projects, especially those that would have been permitted under the previous LUCE, need to be processed in an easier way for the community, the developer, and city staff.
Do you see yourself as an environmentalist? What does that mean to you and how do you express that commitment in you work and your life?
I do see myself as an environmentalist. Being an environmentalist is about sustainability, community, social justice, and economic viability. As an urbanist I want to think about how we live and how we use our resources.
I think Santa Monica would benefit from denser nodes. The advantage of density is this is has a self-sustainability. You need about 1,600 houses to support a full block of retail. With sufficient density you can create a positive economic environment and a positive environmental benefit.
How is the City doing in meeting its sustainability goals? Is there more the City could do?
The City is both doing a great job and also not doing as well as it wants to do. The City Report Card on Sustainability reflects the idea that sustainability is about art and culture and feeding souls as well as cleaning water.
While the City is working diligently toward those goals the environmental footprint has shrunk but it is still vast. You can see all this information in the City websites.
Traffic problems and traffic complaints and traffic fears are heard everywhere in the City. How long it takes to get from here to there in Santa Monica compared to how long it used to take is a major concern for people now. Is it for you? Do you see traffic as a problem for the city?
Traffic is a problem. We won’t know how successful we can be until the Expo Line is in. Ridership on Phase 1 is already exceeding expectations with approximately 27,000 daily riders. By 2030, the estimated ridership is 64,000 daily riders.
Right now Santa Monica is making a significant effort for Traffic Demand Management. Van pooling, cycling with lockers and changing rooms and new bike lanes, transportation management requirements are now part of Development Agreements. The college issues free Big Blue Bus passes. All of this should reduce congestion in the near term.
Importantly, walking should be given its due consideration as a mode of transportations. Shops, parks, and schools need to be within a quarter mile radius to make for a walking city.
How do you gauge the impact of development projects and new buildings and new construction, both public and private on traffic flow, volume and patterns.
One of the things we talked about when we developed the LUCE was to set goals, to measure results, and to make adjustments, as necessary. That was built into the LUCE.
We need to measure and adjust, continuously and on an ongoing basis.
From your vantage point what could City Hall, either at the Staff or the Council level, do to address traffic issues.
There is more to be done and the City knows it.
They are working with the Big Blue Bus. They have put an emphasis on the Expo Line. They are working on transit-oriented housing and development and they are increasing Traffic Demand Management requirements.
The City will take a series of actions including education, incentives and deterrents. City Hall needs to apply pressure to make this happen. To give them their due, they are aware of the problems and are working diligently.
You are no longer on the Commission, but have you read the draft of the new zoning code? Does it promote both the letter and the spirit of the LUCE?
I’m currently reading the draft zoning code. I’m concerned about the didactic nature of the Design Standards and Guidelines. We need to empower the Architectural Review Board and the Planning Commission and be more flexible about Guidelines and Standards. Objectives must be more clearly stated and decision makers and the public need more flexibility. The process needs to be less rule-bound.
How about the public projects? Do Tongva Park, Ken Genser Square, the forthcoming Colorado Esplanade and Expo line meet the goals of excellence and aesthetics set by the LUCE?
I think they do. Tongva Park is of the highest quality and it’s interesting in that it is so specific and ornate. The jury will be out until about five or 10 years down the line when we learn how it’s received and used.
The Expo line is essential to the future viability of Santa Monica and The Colorado Esplanade is the connector we need between Expo and the Beach and the Downtown. It is key.
Are there other pressures and influences on the City that will bring change to the City?
The demographics are changing. Obviously we have a significant long-term population. We also now have many people living here that move often – Silicon Beach workers, the Millennials. We have people in high-level jobs looking for density and public transportation and bike paths. They use public spaces to meet, work, and socialize and often live in smaller spaces. This is already impacting design in the City.
You are a City resident, an architect, and an urbanist. Could you look into your crystal ball? Please tell us your hopes and dreams for Santa Monica and describe your vision of the City in 2030.
I see a thriving, complete city welcoming of all people and supporting all modes of transportation. A culturally rich city, a great place to have kids, affordable for families, a place where people can both live and work. A city of beaches and parks and wonderful public spaces that is exciting, interesting and vibrant.
Dear Reader, Do you think the coming development is a long term good for the City or a long term bad for the City? What do you think the City could do to improve traffic conditions now? What do you want the City to look like in 2030?