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SM.a.r.t Column: SMCLC SPEAKS

SMart (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow) periodically invites guest columnists who have made a significant contribution to the public discourse to its weekly SM Mirror OP-Ed page. Today, we invite SMCLC (Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City), an organization of years of advocacy for the public benefit, to speak to two issues facing our community.

The first issue is the disastrous Gelson’s project headed for the corner of Ocean Park and Lincoln Boulevards. Those 521 undersized units wedged into 12 boring towers with insufficient open space, a pitiful 10% affordable units,  and of course no three-bedroom units; is typical of what our City faces in the future buildout of our seaside town by Sacramento’s unleashed developers. SMCLC met with the developer of that project to see if they would agree to at least slightly scale it down to mitigate its oversize impact on traffic, water, power, streetscape, adjacent neighbors, livability, views, etc., etc. The result of their conversation with the developer, Cypress Equity, are described below in SMCLC’s letter to the public:

April 15, 2024,

Dear SMCLC Supporter,

Recently, representatives from SMCLC along with residents from Ocean Park and Sunset Park neighborhoods met with Cypress Equity, the developer behind the massive 521-unit project at Lincoln and Ocean Park Blvds.

The tone of the meeting was friendly and professional. Cypress representatives listened courteously as we outlined the myriad issues residents have with their project: it’s too big and out-of-scale with the existing neighborhood; it doesn’t have enough affordable housing; it wasn’t required to do a traffic study; it will have almost no units for families, and is mostly comprised of small, one-bedroom apartments — more like dorms than long-term housing.

We also expressed how reducing their plans could turn a bad project into a good one, and since Cypress has other projects slated for Santa Monica, some compromise with residents might serve their long-term interests. Wouldn’t being a company that works with a community be a better business model than one that ignores residents’ meaningful concerns?

Cypress didn’t disagree or pushback on any of our points.

After we finished our presentation, we were told that their investor will back out if the number of units is scaled back, so there is nothing they can do. They were unwilling to reduce their project by even one unit.

They also pointed out that the State Legislature has passed laws largely overriding local control over zoning, so they are within their rights to build without meaningful City or resident input. They expressed that they’re only doing what the legislature intended developers to do, and if they didn’t do it, someone else would. 

As our lawyer later told us, the California Legislature has been taken over by real estate interests and has gutted local City planning.

We will continue to look for leverage residents can use to have input into major development decisions that affect our lives. Certainly, a state-wide initiative for the 2026 ballot, sponsored by Livable California, could help restore local control and will be an important battle. In the meantime, we will always be exploring ways stakeholders can push back against corporate power and greed at the expense of local communities. Stay tuned.

Victor, Diana, Sherrill, and Jeff

In other words, the spin of the Gelson’s developer, Cypress Equity, is that they don’t have to listen to anyone since Sacramento has given them unbridled freedom to do whatever they want regardless of what the community wants or needs. They claim they are “just following orders” from Sacramento. Whenever someone uses the defense of “just following” orders,” you know they are just avoiding responsibility.  Their final defense that if they didn’t do it, someone else would is also a complete abrogation of responsibility, which does not bode well for a developer that has many properties in Santa Monica.

The second issue SMCLC raised is their public warning to not sign any petition asking to voters to void Proposition GS. You may have already encountered signature gatherers, paid by developers of large projects who are trying to weasel out of paying the 5.6% sales tax on properties over $8 million approved in 2022 by Santa Monica voters. The signature gatherers of course, don’t describe it that way during their misleading spin to you when you encounter them.  While you may not agree with that (so-called transfer) tax as it is structured, and while the income from that tax has been substantially less than expected by its advocates, it is still a useful contribution for solving the homelessness and affordable housing crisis. Any money earmarked for affordable housing is helpful. Large developers, which now have a major impact in Santa Monica, naturally want to build and sell their buildings for top dollar. The same way they want to avoid any responsibility to the community, not paying that sales tax is one of their ways of maximizing profits, along with not doing, say, a traffic study, or not building net zero buildings, or not providing three bedroom units needed for families. Hence, SMCLC’s public warning to not fall for this developer’s scam:

April 23, 2024,

Dear Friends of SMCLC,

Paid signature gatherers will soon be asking Santa Monica residents to help qualify an initiative that will carve out special tax savings for developers.

In 2022, Santa Monica voters passed Measure GS, which added a new transfer tax to Santa Monica properties sold for over eight million dollars. This tax provides funding for homeless services, affordable housing, and schools.

Whether you voted for Measure GS or not, we can all agree it should be applied equally.

Developers are sponsoring an initiative that would give them an exemption so they won’t have to pay this transfer fee on their multi-million dollar projects.

Developers are already running wild over Santa Monica. Statewide laws have largely overridden local zoning, allowing them to build their projects without meaningful input from local residents or City Council. The neighborhood-busting project on the Gelson’s site at Ocean Park and Lincoln Blvds is an example of their arrogance.

Now, they not only want to build without constraints, they don’t even want to pay their fair share.

Their chutzpah knows no bounds.

Please do not sign their petition.

Victor, Diana, Sherrill, and Jeff 

There you have it. Two issues that SMCLC and SMart feel are of significant public impact. Your support for these positions is greatly appreciated.

By Mario Fonda-Bonardi for

S.M.a.r.t Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow

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

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

in Opinion
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