February 24, 2024 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

SMa.r.t. Column: B(U)Y RIGHT

“By Right” state housing laws that give developers, in certain projects, the ability to ignore codes ‘by right.’ Well, that is the lovable jargon developers have jumped in bed with at the State level to have it their way, and then lucky them, even getting their hands held at the City level, yielding to their every desire—a ménage à trois.

Or…in spite of State ‘By-Right’ laws, will our city’s Architectural Review Board (ARB) actually demonstrate that they can indeed act on their charter and call out the noncompliance issues that the Gelson’s project continues to drag through the approval process? For example, per “[SMMC 9.55] Through the Architectural Review Board Approval process, the Board is responsible for:

Establishing procedures and provide to preserve existing areas of natural beauty and cultural importance.43

Assure that buildings, structures, signs, or other developments contribute to the preservation of Santa Monica’s reputation as a place of beauty, spaciousness, and quality.

Prevent the development of structures or uses likely to have a depreciating effect on the local environment or surrounding area.

Eliminate conditions, structures, signs, or uses which, by reason of their effect tend to degrade the health, safety, or general welfare of the community.

Provide a continuing source of programs and means of improving the City’s overall appearance.” 

The Gelson’s project is now scheduled to come before the ARB on March 4th for the last design/planning review and comments. The last chance for a citizen/resident board (ARB) to stand up to the developer and to the development sympathetic planning staff and say “no” to the likely “depreciating effect” this incredibly dense development will have “…on the local environment or surrounding area.” The last chance to say “no” to adding more and not “Eliminating conditions, structures…uses which, by reason of their effect, tend to degrade the health, safety, or general welfare of the community”.

For example, The Planning Commission Report, Feb 15, 2017, states: “It should be noted that the intersection of Ocean Park/Lincoln is already at capacity, and vehicles can sometimes wait through two full signal cycles before progressing through the intersection.” 

Ocean Park Boulevard and Lincoln Boulevard was already a failed intersection seven years ago. Yet, this project is adding some 825 cars and 812 bikes for 521 residential units, plus commercial, adding some +/-2000 daily car trips to that intersection, with driveways that require vehicles leaving the site to enter a dedicated bus lane and enter an intersection that, per an earlier traffic study, had more accidents resulting in more deaths than any other stretch of Lincoln south of the freeway to the city line.

Adding 521 residential units to the Gelson’s site would project an increase of about 1000 residents on-site, namely one thousand, where there are presently zero residents. Currently, the area is home to about 65,000 sq ft of neighborhood-serving commercial, e.g., cleaners, markets, pharmacies, etc., that serve the three adjacent neighborhoods of Sunset Park, Ocean Park, and Pico. This plan cut in half the commercial uses and received a “waiver” to not have to comply with the code requiring commercial services to be provided at the ground floor level along both Lincoln and Ocean Park Boulevards. 

State law, ‘by right,’ gives the developer three zoning code ‘concessions’ that, by their choice, can be ignored. Developers can also “request,” ‘by right,’ any number of “waivers,” which do not have to be approved by the city. But, the planning department staff is somehow unable to resist any requests the developers have made, including the waiver request to remove the needed neighborhood-serving commercial uses on the boulevards. Because of state laws, such decisions by staff, in spite of having such a negative impact on our community, are not appealable to the planning commission or the city council. However, decisions like that can nonetheless make one think that staff has not had the best interests of residents as a guiding light for what seems like a long time.

Many of these state laws are due to the past 15-20 years of ideologically/agenda-driven decisions by previous councils and planning commission members not resisting staff reports and pro-over-development state legislators that have framed and passed the onerous mandates that now essentially control our local zoning and the planning department. Given the existing regulatory situation, any appeal to the planning commission or city council would, therefore, likely be moot. 

But doesn’t cutting local neighborhood-serving services in half, adding 1000 additional residents plus guests and visitors, and a couple of thousand daily car trips to an already dangerous, failed intersection, seems to suggest the ARB should, even if the city is neutered by state mandates and past ideologically driven “build housing at all costs” agendas have the professional perspective. Understanding and caring, to at least speak out against this project’s numerous planning failures?

Maybe it would motivate the city council to actually re-evaluate their understanding of the environmental and sociological harm the current rash of careless overbuilding is creating and joining with other, more resident-conscious cities to oppose these onerous state-mandated “one size fits all” planning requirements. 

Considering that previous councils have spent many years and untold millions of our city treasure in a continuing fight against local district election representation, possibly in an effort to protect their own future re-election opportunities, it would be a breath of fresh air to see the whole council, not just three or occasionally four, stand up on behalf of our beach town’s residents.

It will likely be pointed out by some that the courts have ruled against other cities that have refused to comply with these state laws. But, if indeed our city planning staff has little control at this point due to state-mandated controls, and if there is not to be any pushback by the city, then there is likely a greatly diminished workload for staff. 

With the city’s looming half-billion-dollar pension obligation, it would seem now is a good time to reduce planning department expenditures; after all, what is the value of increasing staff pension obligations and other burdens for services and development decisions controlled by the state. Maybe, in the interim, the planning department should at least take the lead on the parking issue and forgo any free city hall parking rights they have, hop on a bus or ride a bike to work, and increase city revenues by charging anyone who is now able to park in those spaces.

Step Up, ARB. Step Up Council.

And most importantly, Step Up Residents, as this is an election year, and that includes voting for majority resident representation on the city council in November. Stay informed.

Bob Taylor, AIA for SMa.r.t.

Send comments to santamonicasmart@gmail.com

Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow

Dan Jansenson, Architect & Building and Fire-Life Safety Commission; Robert H. Taylor AIA, Architect; Thane Roberts, Architect; Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA, Architect; Samuel Tolkin Architect & Planning Commissioner; Michael Jolly, AIR-CRE; Marie Standing, Resident; Jack Hillbrand AIA, Architect

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

in Opinion
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