Romancing Santa Monica

Romantic Santa Monica

It’s not enough for a city to provide its residents mobility, affordable housing, places of worship or profitable businesses. These are essential but minimal standards. Our City should also feed our highest aspirations which are among others and in no particular order: to have a childhood, to be in love, to engage in lifelong learning, to age well, and to realize our dreams whatever they may be. So for Valentine’s Day, SMart wanted to know if Santa Monica is a good City to be in love? Regardless of your age, is our City a romantic place? Everyone has a personal favorite of the most romantic place, sound, site or smell of Santa Monica, but we went searching for the ones that almost everyone recognizes.

Searching the zoning code (looking for love in all the wrong places), there is surprisingly, no district zoned for cupid, but we do have twice the number of cinemas and florists, and five times the number of sex shops per person than the average American City. So we are already a city with many romantic opportunities.

But unquestionably the most romantic place in Santa Monica is the beach. Whether you are watching beautiful athletic bodies performing on the rings at muscle beach, surfing in the waves or just sunning themselves, you’ re always uplifted and leave amorously inspired. If your journey home takes you along Palisades Park to watch a glorious sunset, to have a picnic, or to walk your dog and meet other dog lovers, the beach and the ocean still cast their magic spell. From above the beach you might occasionally look down on the drama of Summer twilight concerts or of the multi spiraled big top of Cirque de Soleil or (rarely) of the twinkling lights Santa Monica’s Glow Festival, but you can always see the Pier’s flashing rainbow of lights or the Carousel’s distinctive roof to recapture the feeling of young love and fun. Finally Palisade Park’s sweeping view from Malibu to Palos Verde and Catalina, often dotted with sailboats, frees your mind to travel perhaps to Hawaii or to Tahiti or other romantic destinations.

Love lifts us up and Santa Monica has many ways to get us above it all: from sitting on the top of the Ferris wheel (solar powered of course), to the glass elevator of the Huntley Hotel, or to taking off into the golden sunset from Santa Monica airport. Likewise love makes it easy to move through life. We already have the next generation of easy mobility: Uber, Hulu Bicycles, and soon the EXPO Light Rail to get us around, but they are as yet too new to have acquired that patina of romance. However, that feeling of easy movement is nowhere more apparent than on San Vicente Blvd. With its gentle curves, gentle slope, gorgeous red coral trees, flanked by gracious homes, graceful joggers and bicyclists, San Vicente is probably the most romantic boulevard in Santa Monica.

The movies, like love, also transport us out of the ordinary and Santa Monica has always basked in the glamour and romance of Hollywood. Not only do we have about two dozen theaters, including the new Arclight over Santa Monica Place, and the deep vaults of Vidiots for new and old movies, but we have landmarks such as the Marion Davies Guest house on the beach, Chez Jays, the Georgian Hotel’s Clark Gable suite, the Civic Center Auditorium (1960s Academy awards) all of which are directly linked to our larger than life movie loves.

For the more intimately inclined, we have dozens of romantic hideaways where lovers can meet: the Galley, the Little Door Restaurant, by the fireplace at the Kings Head Inn, a cozy corner booth at PF Chang’s, for a drink at One Pico Restaurant, not to mention dozens of wonderful coffee shops. We also have many places where the passion of diverse devotees are on display from Bergamot Station to the Broad theater, from Mc Cabe’s, to Angels Attic, from dance to yoga classes where you can fall in love with artists, dancers, musicians, actors, teachers and performers of every sort.

Finally what is more natural than the love of nature? From the dolphins playing in our surf, to seagulls in the lilies in front of City hall, to the bower of Merihew Gardens, and simply sitting in the shade of Morty, the big fig, in Tongva Park, we have an abundance of natural inspiration. Living close to nature is romantic!

For the morning after, you might wander down to the farmer’s market and pick up breakfast from among many treats and voluptuous fruits and vegetables on display. You might repair to a local coffee shop like the Urth Café, the Ocean Park Café, or the Novel Café’ and enjoy immersing yourself in the Sunday newspaper. In the afternoon, you might window shop on Main Street, Ocean Park Blvd, Montana or the Third Street Promenade. Unfortunately bookstores such as Midnight Special, the late Hennessey & Ingalls, and even Borders are gone, but on a great walk you can always find something amusing, interesting or beautiful to share with your lover.

These lovers’ meanderings imply an abundance of time, which is essential to love: it simply needs time to grow. This is the most romantic aspect of Santa Monica: with its vacation ambiance, fed by its long tradition as a beach resort, we are invited, like the tourists that surround us, to spend our time leisurely and not sprint from one to-do item to another. We are encouraged to move a little slower and to have the time to recognize and enjoy the beauty of those around us and perhaps fall in love with them. This casual beach town ambiance is a precious thing that needs protection, but its there for your enjoyment: Happy Valentine’s Day!

Mario Fonda-Bonardi, AIA for SMa.r.t.


A Field of Dreams…on Fire!

Playing Fields

On Tuesday, February 9th our City Council will receive a report from the appointed members of the Civic Working Group. It is the culmination of over 18 months of volunteer effort by nine community members. Representatives of four city commissions, a representative from the adjacent neighborhood and four at-large members were chosen to be part of the effort to create a plan for a mixed-use cultural center around the Civic Auditorium. Of course, the number one priority was to find a way to renovate and reopen Santa Monica’s landmarked auditorium, once vibrant and now vacant.

The report is comprehensive. As Chair of the Recreation & Parks Commission I was appointed to the Civic Working Group as the representative of a commission which has a direct interest in athletic and recreational space. My charge was to advocate for the playing field that was codified in the Civic Center Specific Plan. That plan, adopted in 2005, established a high school regulation athletic field on the corner of Fourth and Pico to be used jointly by Santa Monica High School and by residents of Santa Monica.

I want to focus on the “fire” that originated 17 years ago in residents and Samohi students who saw a need for a playing field at that location. In 1999, I was appointed by the SMMUSD to the school district’s Physical Education and Athletics Advisory Committee. I followed the lead of the Chair of that committee as we pushed for more open space for recreational and athletic opportunities. We were especially concerned with the lack of green space at Santa Monica High School. Our Chair had been working tirelessly to have a girls’ softball field built at Samohi. Neil Carrey achieved that goal and succeeded in adding athletic space to our city’s only public high school. We realized that Samohi still had dramatic shortages in playing field space and joined with community residents in advocating for a playing field to be built on a portion of the Civic Auditorium parking lot. Advocates from the PTSA, the Samohi athletic staff, and community sports groups joined in that quest.

As the discussion of the future of the Civic Auditorium’s surrounding grounds picked up steam, the hope that a playing field could be built there seemed realistic. The City proposed a parking structure at 4th and Olympic Drive to replace the surface parking at the Civic. That lot was built. A new Public Safety Facility was proposed. The facility was built. A park was proposed on the previous Rand Corporation site. Tongva Park was built. A new cut-through street was proposed. Olympic Drive was built. High-rise apartments and condos were proposed. They were built. An early childhood care center was suggested to occupy a corner of the property – and is scheduled for construction in 2017. All of this development was part of the 2005 Civic Center Specific Plan. There remains one other element of this plan that has not been realized: a multi-purpose playing field. As one resident stated, “our city has spent fifteen years NOT building a sports field.”

The playing field was added to the Civic Center Specific Plan because of the advocacy of my preceding Chairs of the Recreation & Parks Commission, Frank Schwengel, Susan Cloke and Neil Carrey. Through their work and that of members of the Recreation & Parks Commission and many community leaders, the playing field was included. City leaders did not add the field willingly. The field became part of the plan because hundreds of residents believed that Samohi students deserved more open space. The City Council acquiesced to the pressure of a multitude of citizens who appeared at the City Council chambers in 2005 to promote the inclusion of the field. The embers of that effort have continued to glow over the past decade.

Over ten years have gone by since the playing field became part of the Civic Center Specific Plan. Two playing fields have been removed from Santa Monica High School since that time, while the number of sports and the number of students participating in athletics has dramatically increased. Almost one third of the students at our high school participate in sports. That’s impressive. Athletics help them achieve a high level of wellness and academic success. However, students must drive, walk and bicycle to practice facilities far from school, on their own time and without school transportation. That shows commitment. Many of our student athletes practice on fields with potential hazards. Baseball, track and soccer teams are using the same field for simultaneous practices. To this date nothing has been done to make the creation of the field into reality. Students at Samohi continue to be shortchanged. The need for the field at the Civic Center is acute.  Isn’t it time for the Council to step up and vote to build the field?

Our City Council often looks at the newest, “shiniest” proposals and forgets about past promises to the electorate. For example, the addition of twelve acres to Airport Park is welcomed. However, I also want our earlier commitments to be fulfilled.  Samohi students should not be expected to travel 3.4 miles to sports practice at Airport Park. The playing field is not the only potential park addition to be overlooked. The City purchased the old Fisher Lumberyard on the corner of 14th and Colorado for a Memorial Park addition almost a decade ago. Today the location is used for 80 city maintenance vehicles and a brand new parking lot, and the city is remodeling offices on the land that was promised to our park system. It’s time for City Council to fulfill their promises to the community and stop the bait and switch!

A multi-purpose playing field at the Civic Center would add open green space to the area. It would receive tremendous daily use from our high school students and from our community at large. There is no full-sized playing field available west of Lincoln Blvd between the north and south city limits. The Playing Field is the least expensive of any of the renovations within the Civic Center Specific Plan and would serve the most residents each day.

So the embers of an idea for a field continue to glow and now the flames approach the size of a bonfire. This fire has been fanned by our stakeholders of all ages. My predecessors on the Recreation & Parks Commission, all the current Recreation & Parks Commissioners, the Samohi PTSA, the Samohi Alumni Association, the Recreation & Parks Commission’s Field Sports Advisory Committee, our youth athletic leagues, students at Samohi and neighborhood associations that want this field built…now.

Sixteen years after this quest started in earnest, 250 residents showed up to a meeting of the Civic Working Group to tell the group how important the field was to their children and grandchildren. Residents are told to be patient, and that the field will not be removed from the Civic Center Specific Plan. However, many have seen the clause in the Civic Working Group report that suggests that plan for the field might be re-located to another part of the city.

The playing field at the Civic Center remains a “Field of Dreams”. I think its time to change the conversation. I think its time to build it!

Build this field and students will use it. Build this field and past students will use it. Build this field and children yet unborn will use it.

The council must amend the Working Group report. The Playing Field must be a given on the Civic Center grounds. The council must request a cost analysis for construction from city staff and must include a request-for-proposal in our city’s next budget, without fail.

The city has the money and residents have the will and the courage to continue to fan the flames. Many will gather at City Hall on Tuesday, February 9th to press the need for this field space. The Council has the means to extinguish this fire and be heroes to our community.

Fulfill your promise to our community.


Phil Brock for SM.a.r.t

10 ways to solve Santa Monica’s transportation challenges

Transportation Solutions

Our City is blessed with an array of transportation options, perhaps the envy of any small city in this state and in the country. Our system has worked well for us to a great extent until recent years. The Santa Monica grid road system is simple and easy for drivers, bikers and pedestrians to understand. We have our own systems for bus and air transport and will shortly have a rail system with the extension of the Expo line. In addition to local taxi services, we now have bike-sharing, Uber, Lyft and Zipcar.

However, we face new challenges, which are the direct result of poorly planned growth. This growth has taxed the capacity of our surface infrastructure. With rail line service to downtown, the system will be stressed in dangerous new ways as the interfaces and intersections between various modes of transit multiply astronomically. For instance, Lincoln Boulevard is currently carrying between 43,000 and 59,000 vehicles per day on certain sections of the street. The Expo Line when fully operational will be running trains every 12 minutes during rush hour and every 20 minutes during the day and evening hours. The convergence of unrelated events in this picture is disaster waiting to happen, due to a failure to analyze and predict.

To better understand this problem, I would like to suggest a physics analogy. In the late 1920’s Werner Heisenberg, Nobel laureate, developed what became his “Uncertainty Principal”. It states simply and profoundly that there is a randomness, some say fuzziness, in nature, in the universe. In our little universe that contains our City, we are like those quantum particles in his theory. We cannot hope to calculate where those particles are located and the probability of how they (we) may behave. Unlike the clockwork universe of Isaac Newton’s theory, where everything follows clear-cut laws, our universe strains the ability of city planners to predict movements that we may make.

With such unpredictability comes great danger and, unfortunately, we have complicated the issue in concentrating so much growth into such a small area. Further, it might have been better, as previously emphasized, if certain modes of transportation, namely the Expo Line, had been more completely segregated from pedestrians, bikes and vehicular traffic. At the risk of overloading some of our over-strained thoroughfares we need to reduce the number of intersections where conflict exists between different types of transportation such as cars and trains. This should be a priority of the circulation element of our Downtown Specific Plan.

The future holds driverless cars, hover boards, and other new modes of transport that can only compound this complex issue. Pedestrians, drivers and visitors who are unskilled in dealing with the rail line, the large number of bikes, cars, buses and trucks, pose potential serious problems. There is a real possibility that our City government will face additional challenges in the form of enormous lawsuits.

We have already seen a train derailed by a wayward truck whose driver was confused. Fortunately, no passengers were aboard. The City Council has recently taken action to install a fence down the center of the rail corridor to prevent pedestrians and skateboarders from crossing the tracks. This picture is far from the pleasant renderings which show railcars, cars, buses, bikes and pedestrian co-mingling.

The solutions to our dilemma are varied and there are no quick fixes. Dependence on the private vehicle may wane and the county might develop a truly area-wide transit system that reduces traffic loads on the streets and freeways. We might learn how to teleport from one location to another as if in a Star Trek episode. That probably won’t happen — not in my lifetime, at any rate.

1. One solution is literally just simply to train our citizens, their children and our visitors to coexist with the system that we now have in place. Use of bikes, buses or jitney-size vehicles will help to some extent. These are resident-friendly and may reduce the dependence on the automobile. I have seen it work in Zurich, Switzerland, where I have spent much time in the last 18 years. There is a coexistence between all forms of transit. Within the city the speed of the trains or trams is much reduced, stops are more frequent and the volume of other vehicular traffic is lower. Furthermore, each pedestrian’s awareness is nurtured from childhood.

2. Provide substantial parking at the periphery of downtown and at Freeway off-ramps to allow visitors and our itinerant workforce to commute, and encourage telecommuting where possible.

3. Provide real low-income, affordable housing in appropriate locations, for workers who should not be required to pay more than 30-35% of their yearly income for housing.

4. In conjunction with additional parking, experiment with creating partial one way streets. For instance sections of 4th and 5th streets could be one-way in order to relieve the traffic from the I-10 off-ramps.

5. On Ocean Avenue, where the traffic is bumper to bumper by late afternoons and weekends, provide pedestrian bridges to allow access to the Pier, the park and the beach areas. These bridges would become part of a system that incorporates the renovated Pier Bridge.

6. Install true railroad crossing gates where the most heavily trafficked thoroughfares cross the rail right-of-ways.

7. Restrict delivery traffic to late night and early mornings.

8. Provide a master plan of dedicated mid-block pedestrian walkways where feasible in the downtown area.

9. Provide whatever mechanisms exist, electronic and/or mechanical, which ensure that the Expo train speed within our borders allows a capacity to come to a full stop quickly at intersections where its visibility may be compromised by existing buildings. Perhaps this might be no greater than ten miles per hour.

10. Conceptually explore the possibility of running an Expo spur line from downtown Santa Monica to Los Angeles International Airport along the Lincoln / Route 1 right of way, to serve our City, its hotels and the growing populations of the areas of Venice, Marina Del Rey, and Playa Vista.

These suggested measures would reduce the traffic in the City. They would provide better access to regional transportation, and they just might reduce future accidents that would be the direct result of a failure to prepare for monumental changes in our transportation structure that are coming. They would alleviate the “growing pains” of our City as it transforms from a small city with small city problems to a small city with large city problems.

Sam Tolkin for SMa.r.t.