April 15, 2024 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

SMa.r.t. Column: Santa Monica’s Pending Apocalypse

Editor’s note: The following endorsements should not be attributed to the Santa Monica Mirror. They are the opinion of Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow, a group of columnists who are not affiliated with the Santa Monica Mirror’s editorial staff. 

SANTA MONICA’S RECENT HISTORY & CURRENT DIRECTION

For years, we were a 2 & 3 story terraced seaside community, a central park for the larger metropolitan area – a low-rise beach city like Santa Barbara, Carmel, and Santa Cruz, with maximum 3 story building heights in multi-family neighborhoods, 4 stories on our boulevards, and 5 stories downtown. But that Santa Monica is fast deteriorating, and we’re headed in Long Beach’s direction! 

We are a city out-of-control. What’s our city’s future – “money & tourism” or “culture & seaside environment”?  Will Residents or Developers rule Santa Monica’s future? Your vote for Armen Melkonians, Lana Negrete, and Albin Gielicz is crucial to give support to the three newest council members elected only 18 months ago and who, by themselves, cannot assure a rational, responsible control of development and fiscal responsibility.

And along the way, we were bamboozled in the bargain with Developers building higher and denser to provide 20% affordable housing in market-rate projects – which turned out to be only 8-10% along with significantly higher rents to make up for decreased Developer profits. 

Most unfortunately, past city leaders have chosen to put interests of those exploiting our resources ahead of residents trying to preserve them!

And for the City’s Management and Planning staff to overlook and not speak up regarding the State’s recent suspension of our zoning code for several months due to missing a deadline to provide zoning for 13,000 new units, opened the door for 16 ill-designed projects from 5 to 15 stories high, totaling 4,562 apartments in a 2-story neighborhood proceeding without any city review. This is gross negligence, somebody screwed up or there may be a more monetary explanation. And if in fact the state is requiring us to have 13,000 potential units in our zoning capacity, our boulevards represent 10% of the city’s total area with 30% of the frontage largely vacant and 40% being single story – both offering all the growth our city will ever need with 2 & 3 stories of terraced residential over 1 story of commercial. And these boulevards can contribute greatly to our city’s character with landscape squares offering a range of social, commercial, and recreational opportunities – places to have fun, accessible, easy to use.

And why do we need even 9,000 new apartments when there are currently 4,000 vacant units and our population has only increased by 3,000 in the past 10 years. In addition, our city is literally running short of water and power! 

Is the future of cities utter sameness? Everywhere looks like everywhere else, and as a result, everywhere feels like nowhere. That’s why we need the independent voices of Armen, Lana and Albin!

SO WHAT DEFINES “URBAN PLANNING” THAT DETERMINES OUR ENVIRONMENT?

Urban planning is NOT the preparation of individual district plans or piecemeal project approvals which has been the case in Santa Monica. It is not costly “piecemeal” master plans for the airport, our downtown, Bergamot, or Memorial Park. 

Urban planning is a blend of all the pieces that make up city life – a variety and zoning of residential commercial, industrial, and institutional land uses, open space & landscape, transportation & infrastructure, schools & libraries, police & fire personnel, sea rise & climate change, natural resources & ecological diversity and more. 

East coast and foreign developers have politically and financially bought Santa Monica as well as Sacramento. And shame on the Santa Monica architects and attorneys who diligently supported this over-development for their own monetary benefit at the expense of our community. Just look at the god-awful project proposed at Gelson’s Lincoln & Ocean Park site!! 

We don’t need more growth, we need better growth! We don’t need more housing, we need truly affordable housing. We need a new conversation about Santa Monica’s future, a comprehensive vision – not first solving homelessness, then crime, then transportation and safety, etc., etc. Everything we’re doing continues to be piecemeal & costly!

AND HOW DOES “URBAN DESIGN” CONTRIBUTE TO OUR BUILT ENVIRONMENT?

As an architect, I’m saddened at what my profession has produced in recent decades – the ubiquitous stucco box! Buildings 6 stories and more are the least sustainable with their large expanse of glass, added need for A/C, limited roof area for solar, and most expensive to build!!

We need to view buildings not as objects, but creating environments. Urban design is about creating a sense of place. It’s about the sequence, and mostly importantly the spirit of the space. 

And landscape needs to become a primary form of architectural ornament. A city that is both “green” and “smart”! Will Santa Monica have no “there” there by the next generation? 

And what can be said about a zoning code that allows oversized, faceless prison blocks. We need to stop trading courtyard buildings for buildings on steroids with little, if any, open space. We need a code that requires courtyards and sunlight instead of corridors and shadows – that limits 30 feet or 3 stories for residential, 40 feet on the boulevards, and 50 feet downtown. 

THE IMPORTANCE OF A MASTER PLAN, or better, A PLAN FOR OUR GRANDCHILDREN

In Santa Monica’s 136 year history, it has never had a master plan, and that’s almost certainly why we find ourselves in a mess! Unfortunately, our history has been “piecemeal” planning which is no more than spot zoning. Can you believe the city is setting aside $5m in next year’s budget to master plan the airport – such astounding short-sightedness when the same amount would provide a master plan for the entire city. 

All areas of our 8.4 square miles need to work together like pieces of a common puzzle – especially in this era of computerized information which can provide current, up-to-date evaluation of all elements that make up our city. 

We do need a true vision for our grandchildren – one where Residents rule, not Developers! We need a master plan that’s driven by civic responsibility rather than developer profits. A plan that’s in balance with our water and energy resources.

SO WHAT IS SANTA MONICA’S PLANNING DIRECTION or RATHER LACK OF?

Our city has been taken over by the expanding development community along with their hired Santa Monica legal and architectural pawns. Our recently hired City Manager and City Attorney may be having trouble picking up or understanding the various pieces.

And the recent, huge fiasco of our 2, 3 & 4 story zoning code becoming invalid for several months which allowed developers to rush in with automatic approvals for 16 projects housing 4,562 units in 5-15 story buildings. This is a potential death blow to our city’s future. And this in addition to the unbelievable stupidity of accepting state housing requirements which in one year increased from 4,000 to 8,000 to 13,000 units to be built over the next 8 years. Not only a 30% increase in population (which increased only 2% in the last 8 years!), but also in requiring 30% more water & power, schools & parks, city budget & personnel, etc. And who pays for all of this – the residents!

We clearly have 2 Santa Monica’s – the residents on one side and the developers and city bureaucracy on the other.

WHAT REMEDIES DO WE HAVE?

The coming election is critical in selecting the only candidates who are capable of putting a halt, or at least slowing the Development industry’s bandwagon. 

We desperately need new blood on our City Council. Those candidates are Armen Melkonians And Lana Negrete and Albin Gielicz, don’t even consider the others or you can kiss goodbye to the beachfront environment, culture, and tourist mecca we know. Santa Monica Residents, this is truly a call to arms if you care about our community sense of place, and the immediate future of our city!! Our city is significantly changing – a change that can still be altered in a positive way, but not without a proactive city council, city administration and city planning staff taking inspired and creative action! We cannot build our way out of an affordability problem, and residents – not developers and speculators – must determine the city’s future!

We are on the road to hell if residents don’t stand up and take back control of our city!!! This is not a time to be timid. This is about your city, it’s about your way of life!! Help in getting rid of these politicians, rid of these developers, rid of these self-interested people – or just sit back while our ship of life continues to sink. How sad it will be if we can no longer find Santa Monica – with only a glimpse of sun, sea, and the tree canopy while wandering in an ocean of development.

SUMMARY

No other election has been as important to our city’s future. We have elected people solely on their political agenda. It’s time to wake up Santa Monica and elect council candidates who have some urban planning and management background! The 3 people elected to City Council need to be the right ones Armen clearly has the most understanding of the balancing act we find ourselves in, and Lana is willing to see all sides and doesn’t have her hand out to Developers and their attorneys, and Albin has years of service to our city! Armen, Lana, and Albin alone cannot save a sinking ship, but their election will help the prior three recently elected councilmembers that cannot do it alone against the current development oriented council majority. At least they should provide us more time to avoid this looming abyss and look for a way forward. In the meantime, our new City Manager needs to aggressively step in and help right this ship!

Sad, but still hopeful,

Ron Goldman FAIA

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

Dan Jansenson, Architect, Building & Fire-Life Safety Commissioner; Mario Fonda Bonardi AIA, Planning Commissioner; Ron Goldman, Architect FAIA; Robert H. Taylor, Architect AIA: Thane Roberts, Architect; Samuel Tolkin Architect & Planning Commissioner; Marc Verville accountant ret.; Michael Jolly, AIRCRE  For previous articles see www.santamonicaarch.wordpress.com/writing

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