April 21, 2019 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Micro Thinking Without Master Planning

Six new apartment projects, all with 100 percent micro units, have been proposed for Santa Monica’s downtown. The developer is claiming that a normal mix of unit types is “financially unsustainable” without his proposed higher unit count. The Council’s reaction to these projects is a temporary ban on single units less than 375 square feet. Unfortunately, this response is symptomatic of the city’s overall approach – one of piecemeal planning at every level, from the study of SRO’s (single resident occupancies) to separate plans for our downtown, Bergamot, SM airport, the Civic Center, 4th & Arizona, the Promenade, etc, etc. “Knee-jerk” planning decisions are taken instead of an overall approach, a master plan that takes into account a diverse urban lifestyle. It is unconscionable that our city has never undertaken such a fundamental task in its 134-year history.

Although it might be possible to live in a micro unit, it is not the formula for new residents to establish roots and settle down in the community. Instead, they are a guarantee for rapid turnover, no families, less support for local schools and a new class of residents with no “skin in the game.” In the process, they will also drive out existing apartment buildings and residents while making it more likely that they will be rented to tourists as hotel rooms! Why is this even debated when we simply need to provide housing for a variety of residents that will retain a stake in our community.

In the meantime, the City Council has authorized $150,000 to retain an outside consultant to simply tell them that the mix of apartments should range between 15-20 percent for single units, 35-30 percent ones, 35-30 percent twos, and 15-30 percent three bedrooms along with the minimum square foot areas of each. This along with $2.3 million for rebuilding a restroom facility at Clover Park (+/-$5000/sf !!!), $.5 million for a mural in a back room stairwell at city hall, and up to $8 million for yet another public relations firm to promote city projects. In addition, they are giving away 55-year leases for pennies on two prime downtown properties and are spending $145 million including bond financing for a 50,000 square foot City Hall expansion (+/- $3,000/sf !!!). All of which borders on the absurd.

But this issue of controlling micro-units is only an indication of larger and more serious issues confronting our downtown and our city as a whole. Cities are generally shaped by mobility, the economy, demographics, and local topography. In Santa Monica however, it seems developers control our city in a piecemeal manner, one project at a time, and with the blessings of the City Council.

In the past, good design went hand in hand with good economics. In today’s corporate world, however, it’s the flow of money that shapes today’s buildings leaving little room for art in our architecture or pride and the protection of our natural environment. It’s not just providing housing that is important but also, the quality and nature of that housing. We need zoning laws that protect our city and a City Council that respects and protects its residents. What we have instead is a City that is wasting $150,000 to determine the appropriate number and size of micro-units. Wouldn’t a better use of city funds be to create a conceptual master plan along with some simple and effective design standards that avoid long shadows and darkening streets. And while we’re at it, how about limiting height which could reduce land and construction costs, ultimately reducing the cost of living in our City. We need to be more concerned about our residents than our investors. What we don’t need is more overdevelopment only to pay for more public relations contracts, inflated salaries, and overpriced restrooms!

I realize the city has a general plan, which is followed only when convenient, but the LUCE (Land Use Circulation Element) is NOT a master plan. A broad, comprehensive master plan, in addition to addressing the design of our buildings and the public realm, would take into account issues of infrastructure, sustainability, shifting demographics, mobility and new technologies that are advancing faster than our ability to adapt. Some of these fast-evolving sectors include our healthcare, educational, hospitality and cultural industries. It would also address the challenge of seismic events and rising sea levels, autonomous vehicles and the reinvention of malls under siege due to online retailing. Some other evolving areas requiring attention are senior living and micro-housing, that have their particular set of problems regarding economic inequality and social inclusion. A well-conceived master plan can both stay rooted in our local culture while taking into account our inevitable growth and evolving technological challenges.

We need design standards that protect our beachfront character and environment, a city where housing quality is not just limited to the mix and size of apartment types. We need design standards that address how buildings relate to each other. The current requirement of only 2 ft offsets in downtown hardly addresses our rapidly growing streetscape of building blocks joined cheek and jowl. An environment of boxes and balconies shoulder to shoulder, devoid of spirit and providing all the sculptural artistry of a computer punch card. This will soon be visible for all to see along the great wall of Lincoln Boulevard! When will our City insist on more inspired environments with wider sidewalks and setbacks, trees and sunlight, with courtyard recesses and mid-block arcades? Good design is the precursor to good economics! We need a creative code that reinforces and inspires rather than unleashes the greed of those who destroy our City for their own personal gain. Although Santa Monica may be in the vanguard of progressive causes, with respect to good planning practice and responsibility to its residents, it is failing miserably!

In summary, it’s “time to recall” what our city council has failed to do for the residents of Santa Monica. Our political leaders and planning staff need to preserve what’s left of our small city while addressing the formidable challenges that lie ahead- both socially and environmentally. They need to do a better job imagining the future and put residents ahead of investors and corporate profits. We need to enact zoning laws and design standards that don’t allow box-like buildings in “straight-jackets” or limit access to daylight and nature. We need to re-establish the “art” in architecture and in our public realm. We need an authentic environment that holds onto the values that make Santa Monica special. Our quality of life and environment depend on it!

Ron Goldman FAIA for SMa.r.t. (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow)

Thane Roberts, AIA, Architect, Robert H. Taylor AIA, Ron Goldman FAIA, Architect, Dan Jansenson, Architect, Building and Fire-Life Safety Commission, Samuel Tolkin Architect, Mario Fonda-Bonardi, AIA, Planning Commissioner, Phil Brock, Santa Monica Arts Commission. For previous articles see www.santamonicaarch.wordpress.com/writings.

Related Posts

Santa Monica Sees Nearly 9 Percent Spike in Part 1 Crimes

February 4, 2019

February 4, 2019

SMPD Chief Cynthia Renaud gives crime update. By Sam Catanzaro Over the past month, Santa Monica has experienced a string...

Man Charged for Murdering Mother

February 4, 2019

February 4, 2019

Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office files charges on Stephen Lloyd Fader. By Staff Writer The Los Angeles County District...

Fighting Fires, Tackling Homelessness, Saving Lives

February 5, 2019

February 5, 2019

The role of fire departments in 21st-century urban centers.  By Keldine Hull Do firefighters fight fires? Obviously, but most of...

SM City Defends Temporary Protective Status for Immigrants

February 5, 2019

February 5, 2019

By Staff Writer Santa Monica City Council voted unanimously at their January 22 meeting to join an amicus brief to...

SMPD Mounted Patrol Aids in Arrest

February 5, 2019

February 5, 2019

By Sam Catanzaro The Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) carried out an arrest on February 1 with the aid of horses....

MDR Oil Well Explosion Sparks Debate

February 6, 2019

February 6, 2019

Jan. 18 incident sheds light on the dangers of oil wells in the city. By Tor Marom Discussions on public...

State of the City: Climate Change, Communication Among Challenges Facing Santa Monica

February 8, 2019

February 8, 2019

Mayor Davis delivers annual address. By Tor Marom This past Wednesday, the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce held its annual...

Santa Monica and ‘Big One’ Preparedness

February 11, 2019

February 11, 2019

Preparing for an earthquake with magnitude of 8.0 or more. By Keldine Hull All it took was 10-20 seconds for the...

Santa Monica Man Arrested for Attempting to Murder Girlfriend

February 12, 2019

February 12, 2019

Kevin Ferron charged with attacking girlfriend Anna Koosman. By Sam Catanzaro The Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) have arrested a...

Fire Damages Santa Monica High Rise

February 13, 2019

February 13, 2019

Shores Apartments unit catches fire Monday night.  By Staff Writer A Santa Monica high rise by the beach caught fire Monday...

SMPD to Conduct Bike and Pedestrian Safety Enforcement

February 13, 2019

February 13, 2019

Citations and increased enforcement Feb. 15 and 18. By Staff Writer  The Santa Monica Police Department will be conducting bike...

Judge’s Final Ruling Orders Districts, Special Election

February 17, 2019

February 17, 2019

Final judgement calls for July 2 special election to choose new council.  By Sam Catanzaro  A final judgment has been...

Santa Monica Police Seize 29 Guns, Cocaine, Meth and Heroin

February 20, 2019

February 20, 2019

By Staff Writer  On February 15,  the Santa Monica Police Department’s (SMPD) Narcotics/Vice Unit along with SWAT served multiple search...

Adapting to Santa Monica’s Single-Use Plastic Ban

February 21, 2019

February 21, 2019

City’s disposable food-ware ordinance under effect. By Keldine Hull When an updated Disposable Food Service Ware Ordinance went into effect...

Council Votes Unanimously to Appeal District-Election Ruling

February 22, 2019

February 22, 2019

City of Santa Monica to appeal ruling that elections are in violation of CRVA.  By Sam Catanzaro On February 21,...