April 16, 2024 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

SMa.r.t Column: Widespread Issues Put Santa Monica in Danger

Following are 5 issues which, along with homelessness and crime, should take priority over all else in our city’s immediate future: 

1. Paramount is our city’s economic uncertainty! Historically, our city has been wealthy and looked upon with esteem. But sadly, this may significantly change after letting a volunteer with the city’s parks program – a pedophile – run loose for 20 years with the city being sued by the families involved! Santa Monica is in the process of paying $100 million dollars to date for the lawsuits already settled and is staring directly at another $100-200 million for the remaining lawsuits. 

And this is in addition to a $675 million yearly operating budget for a city of 93,000 and a $700 million pension liability to previously overstaffed and overpaid city employees. The insurance issues, wasteful overspending, and pension liability could very likely bankrupt our city. How will it feel having libraries with limited access, cutting back on expanding homeless issues or school and parks budgets!!!! 

The city is a company owned by the public and can always upzone – for instance making R-1 single-family residential zoning obsolete. This would raise tax money by allowing developers to build ever higher and denser. But does a city have to keep growing? Is infinite growth even possible with the limitations of water & power, roadways & parking, schools & parks, etc., etc.! We’ve had 4 mayors in 4 years, and our previous excess city staff has now been reduced – most not living in or having a vested interest in Santa Monica – receiving perks from the development industry in exchange for building higher and denser – thankful for their pensions rather than interested in their constituents! 

2. Second is the necessity of a citywide master plan – one that covers the entire city – not just more piecemeal plans for the Downtown, Bergamot, or the airport! It should go without saying – you can’t run a city without an overall plan! 

Santa Monica hasn’t had one in its 136 year history. It has the LUCE which is a General Plan, but definitely not a Master Plan. Understanding the city is a huge budget problem due to its prior poor fiscal management and irresponsible budgeting – but the cost of a master plan over 3 years to complete is only 1/2 – 3/4’s of 1% of our annual projected budget.

Apparently, our astute City Council has scheduled a 3 day study session starting on January 24th to discuss the future of the airport and what is the flavor of the day. Raise your hand if you prefer tomato fields surrounding the mid-rise residential prison cells? And is your preference compact or standard size parking stalls? This process doesn’t even qualify as piecemeal or stupid planning but falling somewhere between LUNACY and downright IGNORANCE!! With the city being underwater financially, where is funding for infrastructure, security, etc. coming from – possibly from benefactors but probably from developers!? Might it make more sense to move the city’s bus & waste management yards to a portion of the airport – creating space needed for uses central to Santa Monica rather than Los Angeles? Is this any way to run a city? 

This is why a master plan is needed to integrate future airport use with the rest of the city. Otherwise, developing an area this size without integrating it with the rest of the city’s land use, infrastructure, and economics is way beyond STUPIDITY!! Sure hope we’re better than that! 

A master plan process would look at all these options. And with computer-based information, this plan can be reviewed and updated as frequently as necessary. It will save countless dollars – there is no planning task more important and there is absolutely no excuse!! Another separate piecemeal .36 square mile airport plan will not have much, if any, benefit for our 8.4 square mile city – although it would benefit developers lusting for a piece or all of the 227 acre airport. Very, very sad! 

3. Third is the necessity to modify our zoning code while still meeting the unrealistic requirements of the state’s housing goals! Rather than standards which simply outline unpredictable outcomes (i.e. floor area ratio and density), we need a form-based code with pedestrian-scaled standards tied to a building’s physical form (i.e. frontage and open space requirements). 

Our city’s historic beachfront environment is terraced 2, 3, & 4 story housing around courtyards. It is not 5-10-15 story block buildings casting shadows on sidewalks instead of sunlit walkways with landscaped setbacks. It is not the projects recently built, under construction, or currently being processed for approval!! 

There are 10 miles of Santa Monica’s 8 boulevards – 70% of which are surface parking lots and one-story commercial buildings! With property tax incentives along with planning & building department processing incentives, these properties could readily and profitably be developed with 2 & 3 story terraced apartments over 1 & 2 story commercial space with courtyards and meandering sidewalks while also turning our boulevards into parkways – fulfilling prior goals of neighborhood activity centers with readily accessible mom & pop stores, nearby medical offices, landscaping and play equipment for “junior” ! And this alone would easily provide all the housing necessary if even required by state law! 

4. Fourth, our affordable housing program over the past 30 – 40 years has been a colossal failure. The goal of providing 15 – 20% is a pathetic 6 – 8% while substantially increasing ents for the 90% of market rate apartments to make up for developer’s lost profits! 

I speak with some experience in my 60 years of architecture, including development of 21 of my own projects and 51 local, state, national & international design awards – this work included over 4,000 affordable housing units for a private developer – all on public-owned land throughout the western states. There were no land costs, no financing costs for 30 – 35% of the total project cost and less overall development time. And the city recouped its land value with affordable rents over 15 – 20 years while also able to transfer title to individual renters on many of the projects. It’s time to make a change!! 

However, the suggestion to sell Tongva Park for whatever type of development is both unnecessary and totally irresponsible. 

5. And lastly, our city is on a pronounced downhill slide. Our city council members are primarily politicians with virtually zero background in urban planning, design, and financing. Councilmembers are in over their heads and our city’s fluctuating staff is of little if any help! At a minimum, the city should offer a short course to understand the interaction of the multiple elements that make up the functioning of a city! This should help differentiate their necessary interests from their posterior derrières! 

It seems quite appropriate for this article to have been written on Friday the 13th. Wake up Santa Monica, we need to demand responsibility from our council & staff! What’s happening to our city is truly pathetic. 

City Manager White, it’s a significant challenge. Although you’ve been with us for only 15 months, we need you to understand and redirect this downhill slide. You, the staff, and council need to turn this ship around before it sinks!! 

Frustrated, but still hopeful, 
Ron Goldman FAIA, retired architect & urban planner 

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 & Planning Commissioner, Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA & Planning Commissioner, Marc Verville M.B.A, CPA (Inactive), Michael Jolly, AIR-CRE. 

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

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