The extraordinary results of our municipal election signal a deep desire, by many residents, for a change in the city’s direction. Three members of City Council with longtime and deep institutional connections were replaced at a single swoop by newcomers proclaiming the need for change. This hints at voter dissatisfaction with a city whose leadership and direction have been increasingly seen as ineffective and out of touch.
Although local armchair analysts are frantically at work trying to understand the exact elements in play, we may not know for a long time–if ever–the exact combination of factors that led to this unprecedented shift. We are deeply gratified that two of our SMa.r.t. associates made it into the race, and that one of them, Phil Brock, has been elected to the Council, along with Christine Parra and Oscar de la Torre. Mario Fonda-Bonardi will continue his brilliant service on the Planning Commission and his star is bright.
The election should not be seen as a repudiation of the city’s many earlier accomplishments. Our town’s residents share the progressive ideals that have been the hallmark of this city for many years, and the work on such things as climate change, safe roads, alternative transportation, the seemingly-intractable problems facing homeless persons and many others will continue. It is clear, however, that there will be a renewed focus on the city’s financial integrity, crime and safety, and responsiveness to specific concerns expressed by very many local residents. These include housing affordability, gentrification, ongoing challenges with our schools, and the big development deals the city has vigorously pursued in recent years.
Seven years ago, at the beginning of SMa.r.t.’s journey, we published a list of five major goals for our group and the city. These remain central to our work, and may provide a framework for thinking about the road ahead:
1. Preserve Santa Monica’s “relaxed” beach culture.
Santa Monica’s temperate climate on the Pacific Rim is a defining feature of our City. The cooling sea breezes along our oceanfront have played a big part in the City’s cultural heritage and allure. The City’s “relaxed” style differentiates it from neighboring cities to the east and should be preserved- both for its residents as well as for those who visit each year to escape “the hustle and bustle” of urban life.
2. Maximize light, air, views and green space.
The views and skyline of our community are disappearing due to high-walled buildings that block the ocean breezes and sunlight inland. We should continue to provide more open space and keep new construction in scale with the existing building stock. New parks and open space should be a priority.
3. Build at a human scale and for family life.
The City’s relaxed, seaside character and human scale plays in an important role in its allure. The currently proposed high-rise developments that dwarf their neighbors will forever redefine the skyline and character of the City. The low-rise residential buildings, that are better suited for families, are being replaced by multi-story projects with fewer bedrooms and little connection to life at ground level.
4. Create a walkable, bikeable and drivable city.
In the great European cities, the pedestrian experience is enhanced with large sidewalks, outdoor cafes and unique shopping opportunities. The result is a dynamic street life for pedestrians and cyclists that fosters interaction and brings the city to life. If the currently proposed developments move forward, the circulation within the City will continue to deteriorate, increasing delays and frustration for our residents.
5. Be a smart, connected and sustainable community.
The City has taken a leading role in being a model for sustainable living. California increasingly finds itself in the midst of serious drought and low rainfall. It is incumbent upon the City to make sure that our resources and facilities are adequate for the current population before allowing more growth. It is absolutely vital that sustainable technologies become part of the City’s energy plan as it prepares for its future.
The elections have created unique conditions for creative change that responds to the needs of its residents. The work ahead will be difficult and demanding, and will require cooperation among all members of City Council, incumbents and newcomers alike, and strong engagement by residents.
Let’s get to work.
By Dan Jansenson, Architect, Building and Fire-Life Safety Commissioner.
Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible 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 Planning Commissioner, Marc L.Verville, C.P.A. (inactive).