The Santa Monica Planning Commission, concerned about resident opposition to the current redline version of the proposed new zoning code, called a Town Hall Meeting at Lincoln Middle School for the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 19.
It was open mike, no time limit, no bells going off, no speakers being cut off.
Intermixed with specific comments regarding the proposed code, people spoke of their frustration with the process.
Amy Aukstikainis, of Northeast Neighbors, spoke to great applause when she said; “We’ve been submitting comments for over two years to the City without reply.”
Major themes were water, traffic, re-adaptive use of existing buildings, parking, housing, historic preservation, and protection of neighborhoods and residences.
Over-development of the City was a repeated concern raised by speakers saying over-development will devalue the quality of life for residents, harm the character of the city, and derail Santa Monica’s long-term fiscal health.
Using the ‘fiscal health’ term has become something of an insider’s ironic joke as some of the speakers saw the term as a stealth entry into the statement of purpose – with an undefined meaning and as not appropriate to a zoning code.
The proposed zoning code is a lengthy and technical document but the audience showed it had done its homework. The three most common requests were the removal of Activity Centers, continuing the requirements for “A” lots, and the elimination of Tier 3 zoning.
Commissioners were asked to remove Activity Center concepts from the document saying neighborhood-serving businesses were already thriving in Santa Monica and Activity Centers were a concept that didn’t ‘fit’ Santa Monica. They argued that existing businesses were in the neighborhood to serve a need and were successful, in part, because they were woven into the fabric of the neighborhood.
Commissioners were asked to keep the “A” lots (think of surface parking lots next to residences) at the current standard, thus providing a buffer between commercial and residential, and to continue to be required to provide a landscape edge.
Commissioners were asked to ban Tier 3 development because of the concern that residential neighborhoods would be overly impacted by the height and density of the Tier 3 developments, especially as proposed on Wilshire Blvd.
In the surprise move of the evening, Armen Melkonians of Residocracy announced, “The LUCE was faulty from day one. We need to revisit the LUCE EIR. Residocracy will be putting an e-petition on the Residocracy web site for people to sign. The e-petition will request a revisit of the LUCE EIR.”
He received a standing ovation from the audience.
There were only a handful of supporting speakers in the room. One was Hank Koning, a well-known and award-winning local architect and a former Planning Commissioner. He spoke of paradoxes in the discussion.
Challenging the assumptions of many of the speakers he stated, “We need to build more housing in order to have less traffic. Wilshire Blvd. Tier 3 housing would do just that.”
The Town Hall meeting started at 7 pm and ended just before 1 am. Commission Chair Jason Parry, Commission Vice-Chair Richard McKinnon and Commission members Amy Anderson, Sue Himmelrich (Council Member-Elect), Jennifer Kennedy, and Gerda Newbold listened carefully to testimony and did not speak themselves.
The audience of about 200 to 300 people thanked them for holding the meeting and for allowing people to applaud and to show audience support for other speakers.
Was this audience a self-selected group of oppositionists or do they reflect general and widely held sentiment in the City? When asked that question, Sue Himmelrich, a current Planning Commissioner and Council Member-Elect said, “After walking the neighborhoods for three months I believe this is a more vocal but accurate expression of the sentiment in the City. We have had a Council majority that didn’t represent the people. I hope I’m part of the beginning of building a coalition that changes the Council.”
Planning Commissioner Richard McKinnon said, “From knocking on thousands of doors during my campaign for Council, I learned there’s a generalized discontent about development and a sense the City is going the wrong direction. They are less vocal but not so different in their opinions from the two to three hundred people who came to the Town Hall meeting and who have been participating in the discussion on the proposed zoning code for two years. They all feel they’ve been blown off.”
OPA Board Member Mary Marlow was asked if she was hopeful that the meeting would bring results. She responded, “The majority of the Planning Commission is out of sync with residents of the city. The four-person majority of Jason Parry, Gerda Newbold, Jim Reis and Amy Anderson have resisted many thoughtful, resident initiated changes to the draft zoning code. Residents mistrust the City and made their mistrust clear at the Town Hall Zoning Meeting.”
Danilo Bach of NOMA summed up the tenor of the meeting saying, “What happened here tonight reflects the depth of anger and mistrust of the present City government.”
David Martin, Director of Planning and Community Development for the City, was at the Town Hall Meeting.
He invited residents’ ongoing participation, saying, “The comments we received at the Town Hall Zoning Meeting were valuable and will be important to the process as we begin the Planning Commission’s official review of the red line draft. The next meeting will be held on Dec. 3. It will be the first in a series of seven Planning Commission meetings to review the redline, with the last meeting scheduled for Jan. 28, 2015.”
Now it’s up to the Planning Commission. Will they provide a point-by-point response to the issues raised? Will they explain how they will handle public comments on the proposed zoning code? The Town Hall meeting, difficult as it was, could be the start of a dialogue that replaces mistrust with trust. A trust that will be realized only if the process becomes more reciprocal and the proposed document reflects the discussion.
What Say You?