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SMa.r.t. Column: The Main Thing Is…

In August, after the first closure of Main St. for a weekend of…something, the general consensus of our inquiries to a dozen or so retail & service (not bar/restaurant) businesses was “ Please do not do that again”. (https://smmirror.com/2021/08/sma-r-t-column-the-main-pain/)

But ‘they’ did do it again, and then again, again, and then once more, again. They added some music, a temporary climbing wall, some people exercised in the street (there is a pretty wonderful beach and green park a block away – wouldn’t it be nice to have some permanent exercise stations along the beach green parkway. But, maybe for some, sit-ups and stretches in the middle of Main St is preferable), and lots of chalk design work was executed on the paving. And who doesn’t love a party, so more people did show up than on the first-weekend closure. 

So this past weekend we visited, once again, numerous retail/service businesses to inquire directly, and not thru a skewed ‘push-poll’ survey, how they viewed the closure, and did their businesses benefit from the closure. Similar to the earlier inquiries, the majority of those asked felt no appreciable gain in income, and while there were more people on the street this last time, it did not seem to translate to increased sales, except for the restaurant/bar operations, who, short of the covid, always do well on summer weekends. One business that did say they had good success is a shop that sells toys and games, and another, that sells liquor, said there was a slight improvement in sales. But no other non bar/restaurant merchant said they experienced such success that they would want permanent or monthly closures. We also talked with some residents that live on second street and they were quite vocal about their opposition to any continuation of weekend closures.

And closure is a word that does seem to have some meaning. As a result of the weekend closure of two blocks to car and bus transportation, the One West Bank, which serves the neighborhood, remains closed on their normally opened Saturdays due to security concerns, and as one quite irate business owner told me, “there is no police presence during the closures”. He then mentioned there were several incidents that occurred, though he did not detail them except to say they seem to have involved alcohol.

We asked the businesses how they participated in pre-planning the closure and how their input was received by the MSBIA (Main Street Business Improvement Association) and the City, and OPA (Ocean Park Association). Without exception those that replied all said that they were presented the plan in advance, but had no say or input to an already formatted plan. We asked if they had been contacted directly, and individually, in person, by anyone from the City or OPA after the last event. They all indicated no, but that they had received an email with a link to a Survey. Interestingly, attached to the survey was a ‘suggested’ letter for them to send to the City Council. One resident sent me the following e-mail: 

“This is the text of the one-click, pre-written email to the City Council & Manager that is at the end of the OPA monkey survey

Hello Mayor Himmelrich, Council Members, and Mr. White. I have personally experienced the recent Main Street pilot weekends and am writing you in strong support of it. A more pedestrian-focused Main Street without cars is a wonderful experience that needs to have permanent status. Please make these pedestrian weekends a regular occurrence. I ask that you safely find a way to expand the experience from Pico to Marine, too. THANKS!!!”

So much for a non-data based survey questionnaire that even concludes the respondents input and formulates their response for them. The last sentence of that ‘surveys’ “letter” repeats what had been suggested by the newest, politically connected, OPA board member, whom had just moved to Ocean Park from north of Montana. A Marine to Pico closure was his original proposal that was pared back to the two block closure just experienced, but clearly is still pushing that agenda.

It is noted that after the first or second closure, the street was being referred to as a “pedestrian plaza”. I wonder if anyone finds it curious that, considering the current failure of the 3rd St Promenade, that none of the effort, and city funds, that were expended on Main St would not have been better directed to breathing life back into the Promenade. Recently, the DTSM (DownTown Santa Monica) association has generated a new “plan”, and curiously they too use the expression “Pedestrian Plaza” to describe, in that case, a proposed closed 3rd St/ Arizona intersection. So we see this “plaza” term used, and repeated, on Main St. and now at 3rd & Arizona. And all the while there is silence about a real Central Plaza that residents have been asking for at 4th/5th & Arizona on our city owned land. Are these distractions intended to divert attention away from proposed massive development on that site that residents have been speaking out against now for many years? Plaza, plaza, plaza, repeat it enough on Main St, and the Promenade and welcome a 10-12 story development on the 4th/5th & Arizona site. 

Conspiracy theories can abound, but facts still remain, and one thing seems certain, that there was no shared pre-planning and analysis with the retail merchants and residents to define what problems may exist on Main St, and what options should be considered to resolve them, and what impact those decisions would have on the community if/when implemented. 

The merchants we spoke with were not opposed to the Summer Soulstice, or the Christmas Tree Lighting event, or to the 4th of July parade, all unique special events, but none of the non-bar/restaurant businesses we spoke with favored street closure on a weekly or monthly basis, let alone a permanent one, or a closure of the entire length of Main St. from Marine to Pico. As to the 4th of July Parade, the K-rails (now with a growing display of not so pleasant graffiti) will possibly have a negative effect and may prevent the ability to hold the parade at all. One wonders if that was a consideration when placing them on the street. 

It seems like the Main St. closure was just another piecemeal power play and non-planning approach to throw something at the wall and see what sticks. Based on the monkeyed survey, what may stick may not smell very good.

Bob Taylor, AIA for SMa.r.t.

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; Mario Fonda-Bonardi, Architect AIA, Planning Commissioner; Sam Tolkin, Architect; Marc Verville, CPA (inactive); Michael Jolly, AIRCRE

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

in Opinion
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