To the Santa Monica City Council:
Although the developer and his world class architect have done an excellent job in following the program which you and the staff outlined, neither the 148 ft. design nor the 84 foot design, though very well conceived and beautifully presented, seem right for this very significant and pivotal location in the future plan of our downtown. This project is not right for Santa Monica unless your intent is to create Santa Megalopolis, as this project is literally the size of a football field turned on edge vertically. We have enough assets already and unlike a Bilbao Museum we don’t need a massive iconic building to attract attention to our City . The program you gave the developer was a Rubik’s Cube which he beautifully solved – but unfortunately he was given the wrong cube. This property represents the shift in the center of gravity that the growth of downtown towards Lincoln Boulevard has created.
We need not remind you that while this is city-owned property, it’s the residents who own this property. This is the peoples’ property! How do the people want to use their property? The staff took results from initial community meetings in 2011 and, instead of controlling design, they set about increasing density and height as well as demand on infrastructure and services, creating more shadow and less blue sky and sunlight. Instead of the program for this project being decided from the top down, it should have been from the bottom up! The city has the highest obligation to do the best for the public good, and it should take into account the public’s priorities.
These 3 acres are a gift–a real opportunity site representing an extraordinary chance to recognize this shift in the center of gravity downtown with a kind of iconic space and buildings that we the residents, the commuting workers, and even our visitors will appreciate. We feel that this site surrounded by lower scale buildings should be developed as an urban plaza that opens to 4th street, a kind of Saint Marks Square with trees, fountains, sculpture and surrounded by cafes, a hotel, offices and more. Perimeter buildings to the east would be up on piers to provide physical access to 5th street.
With the objectives of the LUCE in mind, the program may well have envisioned the following:
First, this is not a standard lot, but the new center of gravity for a downtown that is moving from Ocean Avenue to the 3rd Street Promenade and continuing easterly to Lincoln. This effectively makes the property geographically the central hub of downtown with shopping, dining, and living spreading north, east, south and west.
Second, we feel this hub should serve primarily as a real town square, focused at street level where the overwhelming majority of residents, employees, and tourists will then use it – with a minority portion of the site occupied with development, even possibly including a boutique hotel all above 4 levels of parking.
Third, we also envision the future possibility of closing or with a pedestrian bridge over Arizona to incorporate the historic post office site as part of the overall design – increasing the size of the town square while also enabling some increased development.
Fourth, we don’t see this town square as solely another soft-surface landscaped park, but as the city’s central plaza over underground parking. Tongva Park south of the freeway and outside the downtown perimeter serves as the alternative soft surface park.
Fifth, we see the town square being primarily oriented to 4th Street in addition to Arizona enabling it to take full advantage of south and west sunlight.
Sixth, we feel that it is most important to integrate this plaza into the fabric of the downtown by taking into account and relating to surrounding development. For instance, a midblock arcade would connect the 3rd Street Promenade with the new 4th Street theater complex and the new town square.
We’re advocating continuing to be a low-rise, family friendly city, making this a truly exemplary project within a 50 ft. height limit, and bringing residents back into the downtown. Economically, we can more than make up the 6 million dollars of projected yearly income with either open development along the easterly and southerly perimeter of the commons, or free-standing buildings integrated within the commons. In addition, surrounding commercial space on 4th and 5th Streets will increase in value. And there is also the possibility of transferring a portion of this development to city-owned Reed Park
This could be our Central Park, our Millenium Park, a St. Mark’s Square – a long term community benefit and a truly meaningful quality-of-life commitment–an extremely important piece of Santa Monica’s future.
Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow (SMart)
Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA, Ron Goldman FAIA, Bob Taylor AIA, Dan Jansenson Architect, Armen Melkonians P.E., Sam Tolkin Architect, Thane Roberts AIA, Phil Brock Recreation & Parks Commission.