Editor’s Note: This letter is in regards to the Santa Monica Planning Commission’s Wednesday, June 18 meeting agenda item 8A that looks at the City’s Draft Zoning Ordinance.
When I moved to Santa Monica about 15 years ago, I chose to live near Wilshire because of transit. I have long seen increased use of mass transit as a very important part of a healthy society. Anyone who looks at the traffic along Wilshire can tell that it’s a transit corridor.
I was active in the LUCE process and have spent a lot of time studying that document and its EIR. I became Chair of Wilmont during that process, holding that position until a couple of years after the LUCE was adopted and its EIR certified.
I had quite a few community members tell me that they were concerned about development near 14th and Wilshire. A few expressed concern about “tall buildings” there, fearing 20-story towers. The vast majority expressed concern about losing the Von’s, our neighborhood grocery store.
In April, 2010, we held a forum on long-term care housing, particularly for seniors. This forum highlighted the crucial need for such housing.
As a result of these conversations, we realized that the Activity Center at 14th and Wilshire could benefit our community if a full-service grocery store became a required component of the Activity Center. We urged the City Council to make that change before adopting the LUCE, which they did. This means that the Activity Center at that location protects our neighborhood grocery store.
We also realized that Activity Centers would be good locations for long-term care and other housing for people with limited mobility. The one at 14th and Wilshire, located very close to the health care district, is especially well-suited for that sort of housing.
Of course, adding shared parking at the Activity Center is another benefit to parking-starved Wilmont.
The EIR studied the impact of Activity Centers along Wilshire, comparing impacts of LUCE values against development more concentrated at designated transit nodes and development with reduced heights and FAR in Activity Centers. These are designated as Alternatives 3 and 4 in the LUCE. Alternative 4 would not reduce the overall amount of development. Without the concentrated development at Activity Centers, development would shift into the existing residential neighborhoods.
Page 2-10 of the LUCE EIR includes the statement:
Alternative 4 would guide new land uses to be lower and more spread out than under the proposed LUCE, reducing the effectiveness of the transportation policies of the proposed LUCE and creating greater overall levels of environmental impact than the proposed LUCE. Further, Alternative 4 would not provide the community benefits program of the proposed LUCE.
Section 6.7 starts on page 6-30 and considers Alternative 4. While removing the Activity Centers on Wilshire would not cause all of the negative effects described in this section, it’s useful to look at the traffic impact on Wilshire, described on page 6-33:
Alternative 4 is expected to produce a greater number of PM peak hour vehicle trips than the proposed LUCE due to the more dispersed nature of development.
When projected travel times for Alternative 4 are compared to those expected under the proposed LUCE, they are mostly slower during the AM peak hour due to the higher number of vehicle trips anticipated on local roadways.
For example, under Alternative 4 eastbound travel times along Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards would increase from existing conditions by 2.6 and 2.8 percent, respectively, in comparison to decreases from existing conditions of 2.3 and 1.6 percent under the proposed LUCE.
During the PM peak hour, travel times for Alternative 4 are essentially the same as those for the proposed LUCE, alternately slightly slower or faster depending on the corridor and direction.
It may be many years before development of either of these Activity Centers is even suggested as a reality. Whenever a developer does acquire the parcel containing our neighborhood grocery store, we need the protection of Activity Centers to ensure that we will still be able to walk to a full-service neighborhood grocery store.