The America Oxford dictionary defines opportunity as a time or set of circumstances that are suitable for a particular purpose. Our city planning staff in formulating the Downtown Specific Plan (DSP) has identified a total of eight sites. As follows:
- The new Expo Station and it’s adjacent City owned property. Multiple transit related are envisioned at this site.
- The Sears Building property adjacent to the Expo Station under construction.
- The Miramar Hotel proposed for significant redevelopment including a hotel and condominium (+/-320′tower).
- Ocean / 2nd and Santa Monica Blvd. Site currently being proposed as a hotel and museum, designed by Frank Gehry and including the ubiquitous affordable housing (+/- 260′).
- Ocean / Colorado site, currently the Wyndham hotel, to be demolished and replaced with a terraced 9-15 story hotel (+/-175′).
- 4th / 5th and Arizona. The City-owned property designated to be hotel, office, commercial, affordable housing, public space and parking (+/- 148′).
- 5th and Broadway. The Fred Segal site slated to be commercial and residential with some affordable housing.
- City-owned property adjacent to the Big Blue Bus Yards to be developed in a way to enhance the bus operations, provide open space and affordable housing.
It appears from a glance that development on these sites has been generously assigned to the developer owners and to developers as surrogates for the City. This is not necessarily a bad marriage but are the citizens getting the full value from these agreements? In the case of the City owned property at Arizona and 4th, it will be violating its’ own development guidelines, i.e. zoning ordinances, heights, setbacks, floor area ratios (density). This will benefit the developers at the expense of the scale of our beachfront community. Another case where opportunity means exceeding the code for excessive profit.
My fundamental question as an architect, does the selection of these eight sites represent an underlying vision for our city’s downtown beyond the simple zoning restrictions? It appears not. Considering each of the opportunity sites, I’ve yet to discern any particular logic in their placement other than those adjacent to the Expo Line.
The Expo station and the adjacent opportunity sites should have transit related activities and uses such as commuter parking, transit related commercial and convenient interfaces with other modes of transportation, i.e. bus, taxi, bike, as well as enhance pedestrian access to Downtown and the Pier as primary destinations.
To put some perspective on the magnitude of these, it is expected that by 2030 this location will need to accommodate a ridership of 60,000 per day or 2/3 of the city’s current population. This figure begs the question. Was this indeed the optimum location? In my opinion it was not and like the decision to run the line on grade is a major missed “opportunity.” The line should at minimum have been elevated throughout the Downtown area running down Colorado terminating adjacent to the Wyndham Hotel. A new pedestrian bridge and/or people mover should have been planned to move the tens of thousands of visitors to and from the Pier. Such a bridge could serve also to make the Pier more ADA compliant and family friendly. Further, parking on the Pier should be eliminated as inherently problematic to its structure and pedestrians. The Sears site being adjacent to the station could accommodate transit related parking with housing above, both moderate and affordable, as well as a pedestrian bridge to Tongva Park.
The current Miramar Hotel should be allowed to renovate or rebuild to the density and height currently allowed, taking into account the historic nature of its existing assets. As there is a new design architect, I will withhold any judgment until his concept is made public. Whatever is proposed should reflect the parking requirements of the current ordinances without reductions.
The Ocean Ave./Santa Monica Boulevard Site with its multi-storey hotel and condo proposal should also be scaled down to reflect the existing zoning. It should be 3-4 stories in compliance with current codes, maintain the landmark structures on the site and not be required to provide affordable housing. By example, one only has to look at the new Shore Hotel down the street.
The Ocean and Colorado site, the Wyndham Hotel, should be allowed to rebuild replacing like for like in regard to height, lot coverage, parking, etc. The proposed design missed an opportunity to be integrated into what might have been an above grade terminus of the Expo and a dramatic Pacific Window access to the Pier.
The 4th/5th and Arizona site SMa.r.t. has discussed in detail in a position paper which expressed the belief that this City owned parcel be developed as a major sorely needed Plaza space with only low rise structures, perhaps a boutique hotel, some appropriate commercial, shade trees and fountains, and perhaps a tall iconic piece of public art. This development would exist above a City owned multi-level garage with revenue solely the City’s. The Plaza would be connected to the 3rd Street Promenade by a mid-block arcade.
The 5th and Broadway site familiarly known as the eastern portion of the Fred Segal site should be developed adhering to current zoning into residential and neighborhood/transit oriented commercial. In every one of these sites there should be strict requirements for open space and sufficient parking.
The Big Blue Bus Yards site should be developed as a transit interchange or hub allowing City residents access to the Expo terminal by way of smaller feeder busses, jitneys, taxis, autos and bikes. Expo riders would benefit from improved access to the rest of downtown. Sites 1, 2, 5 and 8, would be a linear transit related corridor and developed cohesively
Opportunity sites in downtown abound but we as residents should insist on these being developed to enhance and respect our quality of life. They should all have significant architecture but should not be allowed to become opportunistic monuments to satisfy few at the expense of many.
In planning Santa Monica, the staff, planning commission and the council should free themselves from the ordinary, develop a visionary overall concept for the downtown at a scale that we as residents expect. It should not be one that will further stress the fabric and infrastructure of our downtown. We need to re-establish trust and transparency while planning our downtown. These sites should be considered “public benefit sites”, not opportunity to exceed code for excessive profit.
Sam Tolkin, Architect