The current system is broken – it’s not working for developers, the city, or the community. Over 40 Development Agreements (DA’s) have created a tsunami of activity – in stark contrast to the handful of D.A.s the prior 25 years. The 20 year growth anticipated in the general plan has already taken place in the 3 years since the plan was approved! A recent casualty of this process was the Hines Bergamot Transit Village application that took 7 years to be processed only to be challenged in a community-wide referendum days after City Council approval.

The city needs to protect itself from this feeding frenzy or the warmth and charm of our city will soon be gone. Of late, resident concerns seem to be taking a backseat to developer and business interests. As design professionals and long-time residents, our hope is to inform the community of the critical nature of issues we are facing and of consequences of inaction in the face of the current rampant and poorly conceived development.

Next week we will discuss TRAFFIC where we’re rapidly losing our goal of being a “driveable city” – a city you could cross in 15 minutes. We are told that abandoning cars will make it easier to get around, but the city’s proposed “Transportation Demand Management” (TDM) program will be ineffective unless reliable and accessible transit alternatives come first. We will explore more realistic remedies to recapture our mobility and reduce gridlock.

The following week, HEIGHT will be the topic, where City Hall seems to believe that bigger and taller will make the city better. Staff is recommending that some areas have height increases up to 300%! We will discuss ways to avoid our streets becoming canyons lined with walls of buildings that replace sunlight with shade. Many beachside cities already have 30 foot height limits, more open space, and remain economically sound! A “prescriptive code” with a simple height, density, and open space ratio will allow for reasonable growth and creative design while eliminating “backroom deals” (DAs) that often benefit the developer at the expense of the community.

In week, 3 we’ll address a DOWNTOWN that is not only about height and density –but wider sidewalks, better building design, open space and sunlight. Currently plans for the downtown are being shaped by developers, not the community with “super-sized” projects is slowly covering our downtown like a cancer. The D.A. process does not work and should be eliminated as it allows too much “wiggle room”.

We’ll discuss our INFRASTRUCTURE that needs to upgraded before more development is allowed!! We live in a consumer society with its offspring of –“waste”. How do we balance a healthy environment with this onslaught of development? City Hall never addressed whether existing infrastructure can accommodate extensive development. The damage left in the wake of this feeding frenzy is not only reducing our quality of life, but will leave the residents to pick up the tab for the additional infrastructure that it will require !!

Regarding the city’s obsession with OPPORTUNITY SITES along with greater community benefits, this is simply more opportunity for developers than for the community. Height doesn’t equate with iconic architecture. Sunlight and open skies, however, do equate with an iconic environment. More traffic and shade with less sunlight and local business are not exactly “community benefits” since no amount of benefits can make a poorly conceived project worthwhile.

In considering PARKING, we’re caught in a shell game where community benefits are paid for by decreased parking requirements. And the reduction of on-site parking will inevitably lead to more cars in adjacent residential neighborhoods. Enough TDF, TIF, TOD, FAR, AVR, unbundled parking, shared parking , etc. – let’s begin to look at this realistically. Santa Monica’s rapid growth may be an urban planner’s dream, but for the rest of us, it’s become a nightmare.

Next we’ll focus on development along our BOULEVARDS. The LUCE general plan calls for only 4% of our city to be further developed with the remaining 96% preserved. But with the dissolution of redevelopment funds, the city is anxiously envisioning large office buildings along the major corridors to provide funding through development fees. For adjacent residential neighborhoods, quality on our boulevards is more important than quantity and more traffic.

And our heritage of HISTORICAL buildings like our courtyard housing, bring human scale that makes Santa Monica different and special. Inflated property values and community benefits have become reasons to tear down small and rebuild large. With appropriate incentives, ADAPTIVE REUSE of existing buildings with character will blend old and new, retain local business, and maintain a beachfront atmosphere that retains our City’s heritage. The greenest buildings are the ones we don’t tear down.

We strongly feel Santa Monica can remain iconic while still providing for growth and economic health. With more than 40 pending D.A.s, it is a clear indication that Santa Monica could in the “driver’s seat” rather than a reluctant passenger. Yet City Hall continues to follow the money and give in to the developers’ demands too easily. It’s sad to see the city ruined by outside business interests who won’t even be around to experience the consequences of their greed while the residents are left with the consequences of their fear-based decisions.

If we focus on our friendly beach-town character as well as the new, we can connect past and future and enjoy the best of both. Balancing between residents, business, and tourists will allow Santa Monica to flourish while preserving its quality of life. The fate of our city will be decided in our town hall! We hope you will become further informed over the next 8 weeks and better understand the immediacy and gravity of the decisions before us that could forever change the face of our City.

Ron Goldman FAIA for SM a.r.t.

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