A Thankful City

2016 gave Santa Monica a lot to be thankful for. SMa.r.t. (Santa Monica Architects for a responsible tomorrow) would like to highlight those we feel are particularly praise worthy.

First, the important improvements in mobility were especially gratifying since they provided something for everyone. Pedestrians got the glam Esplanade (squiggly paving and all) and the quixotic scrambles people are still learning to use. Bicyclists got a year of successful Bike Sharing (Breeze) which potentially can take 1,000 cars off the road each day. Cars got the reopened California Incline, and finally Expo got an increase in the frequency of trains making it easier to enter and exit our crowded city. While these are all necessary conditions, they are not yet sufficient to solve our serious mobility conundrums: our downtown is still gridlocked, pedestrians and bicyclists are tragically hit by vehicles all too often, and all of our boulevards still grind to a halt every afternoon. But we are making measured progress, which is important since this is something that affects everyone and even small improvements can, over the long run, return substantial benefits. We owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who put their shoulder to the wheel, so to speak, to make our city move a little better. Vintage filtered lifeguard tower at sunset.

Another peak on the gratitude meter was all of the breakthroughs in preservation this year. From the biggest to the smallest building, preservation made significant gains this year. The San Vicente Boulevard Historical District was established covering seven blocks and 26 apartment buildings in a multitude of styles from Colonial Revival to Mid Century Modern. The beloved landmarked old post office was adaptively reused as a production office and the Shotgun House ended its 17-year diaspora and finally found a home next to the Ocean Park Library. It takes a village to save even the tiniest building. SMa.r.t. is grateful to everyone who put in the countless hours and money to protect our architectural heritage and this augers well for future battles. The threatened Busy Bee Hardware, the oldest continually operating business in Santa Monica, will be one such battle.

But mobility and preservation, among other important goals, take lots of money and we are grateful that Santa Monicans are willing to tax themselves for the common good. The passage of Propositions V, GS and GSH, signal a willingness to invest in the bedrock issues of housing and education. While these imperfect taxes and bonds are regressive and very expensive ways to raise money, particularly from our already stretched residents, they are better than our city always going to developers, hat in hand to try to squeeze them for concessions to fund desired City expenses. A steady stream of dedicated income for the City is always better than the erratic fund fluctuations of the real estate development cycle.

Propositions GS-GSH will raise about $7 million a year which translates to 14 to 20 new affordable units every year (more if they are rehabbed instead of built new.) This is a small, but steady and compounding stream of affordable housing which makes a modest but predictable dent on the hundreds of affordable units lost each year to demolitions and vacancy decontrol. Prop V will keep the Santa Monica College growing albeit with its many known negative impacts on the immediate adjacent areas, but it is essential to our children’s and returning student’s education since the nourishment of human capital is the one thing (after health and safety) that is the most important reason for a city’s existence.

In that spirit of developing human capital two other initially unconnected items are important. First the City voted to require all new single family residences starting in 2017 to be energy neutral (eg. produce as much energy as they consume). Today this means rooftop photovoltaic solar collectors, but nascent technologies (geothermal, smart windows, etc.) will also come into play in the future. The ability to produce decentralized energy locally helps our necessary conversion to electric cars which will have many beneficial ripple effects from quieter streets, to cleaner air (equals healthier residents) to slowing sea level rise which is starting to eat our precious beach.

The second human capital benefit is the new playing fields the City is starting to design both at the airport and at 4th and Pico. In our park- and playing-field-starved city, these future improvements will make our sports programs and our high school all function as they should, instead of being often the last thing on the agenda in an already impacted city

And sadly, we are grateful for the late Tom Hayden and Bill Bauer. From the Port Huron Statement written by Tom, to the 700 hard hitting editorials written by Bill, both of these seemingly-unrelated Santa Monica luminaries had one thing in common: the rare bravery to speak truth to power. We are thankful for their decades of unremunerated courageous public service and for the big shoes they left us to fill.

Finally SMa.r.t. is grateful for all our faithful readers who have read our weekly column, and wish you and your families the time this Thanksgiving to appreciate everything good about your lives!

By Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA for Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow