May 18, 2022 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Landmarks Commission Dead or Alive?

As undoubtedly you’ve heard, the City of Santa Monica and therefore its residents have entered a disastrous multi-year dive because the coronavirus crushed our sales tax, parking income (including parking tickets), hotel tax, tourist income and dozens of other sources of City income. These multi million dollar downward trends had already started before the virus, but now they have accelerated to terminal velocity making a “soft landing” impossible. Naturally massive City staff layoffs are being considered, along with deferred capital improvements, and now the consolidation and or elimination of the 18 public City Boards, Commissions, Task Forces, and Committees is being considered.

From Seniors to the Status of Women to the Library and to 15 others, these groups serve in a variety of capacities from advisory to quasi judicial to judicial, but all have the same general effects:

They give our City Council and City staff the benefit of virtually free advice from citizen experts who are passionate and knowledgeable about these varied topics.

They are a free forum for educating our citizenry about pressing City issues often in a manner more in depth than can be achieved during the impacted agenda of City Council meetings.

They provide a public, transparent forum where concerned parties can debate and hash out the big and small issues confronting our City.

They are the grooming grounds for our future citizen leaders who learn how the City works and where improvements can be made.

So we get virtually free advice and education, transparency, and future leaders all essentially for the small price of a typical monthly meeting attended by one or two staff members. This is, and always has been, an incredible bargain for our City, particularly now when we are on the ropes and face years of fiscal austerity.

Our City has faced many crisis in the past and has managed to preserve its essential beach character and grace in spite of five wars (WWI and II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan/Iraq), recessions and depressions, influenza and AIDS, the ongoing housing affordability crisis and countless other disasters that would have argued for ripping apart our urban fabric to deal with the crisis du jour. Its hard to imagine now, but at one point about 50 years ago the City council even wanted to tear down our Pier! But its exactly the preservation of our historic urban fabric, such as the Pier, that cemented the City’s authenticity and made it so attractive to its residents and to tourists for example that funded our boom of the last 10 years.

In our City’s past there has been tireless support for historic preservation. 45 years ago, as part of our City’s Centennial festivities, the Landmarks Commission was created to shepherd our City’s architectural treasures into our next century. Today we are blessed with over 140 landmarks, historic districts and structures of merit including buildings, neighborhood’s and even trees and a navigational beacon. Such a harvest would not be possible without the Landmarks Commission buttressed by massive support of determined individuals, neighborhood organizations and organizations like the Santa Monica Conservancy. Finally our City council has overwhelmingly validated this preservation sentiment by consistently approving, with very few exceptions, the decisions of this Commission.

But designating a landmark is not an automatic process nor should it be. There are criteria in our Municipal Code to be met, research to excavated and context to be understood. Inevitably, there is a landmarking debate where reasonable people can disagree. But the only forum where that debate can happen in depth is the Landmarks Commission. Without it, either a single planner would have to make the life or death decision for a candidate landmark, or the landmarking possibility would simply not even occur. And the brutal truth is that once a valuable heritage object is not protected by landmark designation, it is always vulnerable to demolition in the normal churn of the built environment: and once demolished it can never come back.

Therefore, because every landmarkable candidate once lost is irretrievable, every landmarking candidate needs its “day in court” and that court is the Landmarks Commission. While the current fiscal crisis makes even the smallest economies tempting, now is not the time to destroy this valuable institution just to save thirty pieces of silver. The fact that we can still preserve our architectural past gives our citizens hope even as the virus has destroyed any possibility of getting back to “normal’’ for the foreseeable future. In fact, as we stumble around in the wreckage of our economy, of our public health, of our public transit system, of our education system, of lives lost, the permanence of our landmarks becomes a beacon of stability to our devastated City.

So write now to your City Council (council@smgov.net), who now face very difficult choices. Remind them that maintaining our values of preserving the City’s heritage, by the transparent process of educated passionate citizens, in a time of crisis, is priceless and that the Landmarks Commission provides a real service to the City that is way above its small financial cost. As important as preserving our historic buildings is, preserving institutions that preserve those buildings is equally important to the City’s comeback and future.

By Mario Fonda-Bonardi for Smart Santa Monica Architects for a sustainable Tomorrow

Thane Roberts, 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, Terry Hayes, Arlene Hopkins

For previous articles see www.santamonicaarch.wordpress.com/writing

in Opinion
Related Posts

Column From Santa Monica Mayor Himmelrich: We Walk the Talk

May 12, 2022

May 12, 2022

By Sue Himmelrich, Santa Moncia Mayor  I like the SMa.r.t. architects. I often agree with them. But in allowing Mark...

Is Gelson’s Our Future? Bigger Is Not Better!

May 12, 2022

May 12, 2022

It’s appalling to see what’s happening in our city – projects recently built or about to be approved – in...

Renting Your Second Home

May 6, 2022

May 6, 2022

If you are among the many Americans who own a second home that you occasionally use as a vacation getaway,...

Column: Cities Fight to Maintain Distinctive Characters

May 6, 2022

May 6, 2022

By Tom Elias, Columnist Anyone who knows California well will realize that Palo Alto does not look much like nearby...

SMa.r.t. Column: Gelson’s, Boxed-In

May 6, 2022

May 6, 2022

This week we are re-visiting an article from 2018 regarding the Miramar project, by simply replacing the word “Miramar” with...

Column: Are You Talking Yourself Out of Saving for Retirement? Here’s How to Break the Habit

May 5, 2022

May 5, 2022

Saving for retirement can be an abstract concept. It’s something we all know we should do, but the farther away...

SMa.r.t. Column: Failure to Plan…

April 30, 2022

April 30, 2022

Over the last approximately two years your City has been busy trying to respond to new California laws that are...

Letter to Editor: Your “Standing Firm With Santa Monica” Initiative

April 25, 2022

April 25, 2022

The following is an open letter to Councilmember Sue Himmelrich from Santa Monica resident Arthur Jeon regarding a proposed transfer...

SMa.r.t. Column: Planning The Real Future

April 24, 2022

April 24, 2022

In the 1970s, renowned USC architecture professor Ralph Knowles developed a method for planning and designing cities that would dramatically...

SMa.r.t. Column: New City Financial Plan: The Resident Homeowner Bank

April 15, 2022

April 15, 2022

Part II: Who pays the proposed transfer tax and where does the money go? Last week, we introduced the proposed...

Column: NIMBYs Getting a Bad Rap

April 8, 2022

April 8, 2022

By Tom Elias Rarely has a major group of Californians suffered a less deserved rash of insults and attacks than...

SMa.r.t. Column: New City Financial Plan – The Resident Homeowner Bank

April 8, 2022

April 8, 2022

Part 1 of 2 In this two-part article, we will discuss both the proposed transfer tax ballot initiative and the...

Column: Tackling Childcare Costs

April 7, 2022

April 7, 2022

Finding affordable, quality childcare is essential for many working parents. The current shortage of care options is helping drive up...

SMa.r.t. Column: Tunneling for Mobility

April 1, 2022

April 1, 2022

Editor’s note: this is an April Fools Day column and is intended to be satire.  Starting this year permits from...

SMa.r.t. Column: The Value of Our Boulevards

March 28, 2022

March 28, 2022

Following is a composite of past articles dealing with the accelerated demise of our beachfront environment together with the increasing...