While COVID-19 and the lockdown, social distancing and masks have been a primary concern that we all share, now is the time to look ahead to the upcoming elections, as campaigns are beginning to rise in the national consciousness. This election, we trust, will result in a new positive direction for us all. Similarly, here in Santa Monica we are also gearing up for our local elections, which will include five of the seven city council seats. Change is in the air. Nationally, and locally! Let’s shake it up.
In Santa Monica we face a fiscal disaster, in part because of the pandemic, but also due to excessive spending and poor management of available resources. Prior to the lockdown, for example, there was a steady decline in retail operations and tax revenues, as the usual victims, local ‘mom & pop’ stores, began to shutter their businesses as commercial rents continued to rise un-throttled. And with one of the highest sales taxes in the state many local residents choose to shop elsewhere, further drawing down city revenues. There were about nine million visitors per year pre-Covid-19, and they may have been filling hotel rooms, and buying from the remaining national chain stores that line the Promenade, but that too has been winnowed down.
So, now that we are in this crisis, we must ask where was the foresight to prepare Santa Monica for the “rainy day”? Certainly, it doesn’t seem likely that it was a consideration in the excessive cost of the City Hall Annex at +/-$78million, and with interest, likely double that amount. The Annex, temporarily sitting empty, was an expensive vanity project designed to win an award that we know was not needed, and that might have been built for a cost in the $45+million dollar range. It can’t be in the $1.00/year for 65 year lease arrangement for 1.39 acres of our civic center land for the purpose of a quasi-private day care center that will serve mostly City and Rand Corp. employees, with another +/-$5.6 million thrown in to help build the structure. Or for the +/-$20million fighting against residents preferences for district elections. Well, now we have a “rainy day,” and the umbrella isn’t working.
What Is this Council thinking? Does anyone think giving away another 2.57 acres of our resident owned land in the heart of downtown for a private hotel/office development will provide the rainy day coverage we will be needing? A proposed 10-12 story hotel/office building, when travel and hotel needs are collapsing, and when Covid-19 is emptying office buildings everywhere as workers are increasingly working remotely from home. We are offended that the developer, with the Council’s blessings, names the project “The Plaza”, when what the Council should be doing is listening to the residents that have been demanding a real plaza on that site for years. A central plaza, in the heart of our downtown, that serve all of the residents, and the visitors, and those that work in the downtown area that might enjoy a quiet break at lunch to simply sit and relax under a shade tree. What a concept! But, by all appearances, a concept beyond the comprehension of at least six of the seven council members that recently voted to continue negotiations with the developer, five of whom are up for re-election. Remember that in November.
Why is this Council not fighting to protect our beachfront town? In addition to the Covid-19 impact and losses, communities across the state are being mandated to build massive amounts of housing. Under the State mandate, Santa Monica is required to build 8874 new housing units in the next eight years. That represents a +/-20% increase in our town’s population. That number of units comes with economic penalties by the State if not adhered to and fulfilled. And the Council has yet to raise a voice in opposition to such an outrageous requirement. The mandate does not recognize or provide for the increased water and other infra-structure demands that will have to be provided and implemented, and with no financial help from the State! Tax increases anyone? In addition there are nine bad bills pending in the legislature that if passed would allow unlimited housing development. A developers dream. Five Council seats to be voted on in November. How about five fresh faces?
8874 new units, and possibly unlimited housing, when there are several significant earthquake fault lines that run through Santa Monica along the Wilshire corridor, extending from Santa Monica Blvd. up and across the north of Montana area and San Vicente. A potential hazard zone underlaying a good portion of our 8.4 square mile town, and when the inevitable, now long overdue by historic standards, earthquake hits us, and shakes us up, we can reasonably expect large scale damage. So, 8874 new units, potential seismic impact, Covid-19 impact, the rising crime rate, all can be seen to converge on police, fire, paramedic, and hospital demand, and could certainly overwhelm the capability to be dealt with in the possibility of a combined event.
Whatever preparation our City has done in the last ten or so years to prepare for such a convergence of events, does not address the current issue of building those 8874 new housing units and the added burden they will impose, including thousands more car trips, further slowing emergency response teams. Yet this Council has not protested any of the nine proposed bills, including one that would allow ANY site to build ten units on it, and another from our former mayor and current Assemblyman, Bloom, who proposed a bill (gratefully pulled last week) that would have allowed any housing project to match the maximum height of any zone within 1/2 mile. What is the newly zoned height of the Miramar, or of The ‘Monster’ at 4th/5th & Arizona, or the height of the proposed Ghery hotel. How many stories might those be? And, as the bills are written they will be permitted within that large seismic zone, which may cover as much as 20% of our 8.4 sq. mile beach town. Really?
This Council has filed no protest, or joined the myriad of other communities in their attempt to stop the State legislature from potential passage of these onerous bills, as once again politicians capitulate to developer money and promised tax revenues. But at what cost to our quality of life, and the protection of our beach community. It’s not just a rainy day, it is a stormy day.
While we have shared a focus on the pandemic and the growing death count due to the incredibly incompetent management at the national level, we too, locally, have been subjected to fiscal and planning mismanagement. It is time for a clean slate and a Council that will represent the residents, truly work to protect our environment, and remember that our beach front town is also a place of respite for so many in the inland and valley areas that need relief from these increasingly hot days. They don’t want to come to a downtown L.A. clone, they want, and need, a low rise, open, breezy beach front place to breath. And, so do we. Don’t give fresh license to the same incumbents that helped create this mess. Let’s shake it up this November.
Bob Taylor, Architect, AIA
(Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow)
Ron Goldman, Architect FAIA; Dan Jansenson, Architect, Building & Fire-Life Safety Commissioner; Robert H. Taylor, Architect AIA: Thane Roberts, Architect;; Sam Tolkin, Architect;
For previous articles see www.santamonicaarch.wordpress.com/writings