A City for Everyone

A city for all ages

 

“…would someone be kind enough to tell me what has happened to our benches on the Promenade? When one entire block of benches disappeared, I questioned where they were and was told they where being ‘repaired’ and they would be returned. As a Senior, those benches are quite important to me. I can only go a short distance before I’m out of breath…When will the rest of them be coming back? ”

That message on the “Santa Monica Government, Politics, Policies and People” Facebook page represents a challenge for the city, and for many current residents. Although this specific issue was resolved soon after the message was posted, many residents have difficulties navigating the city’s man-made environment because of poor planning, inconsiderate design and weak communications. Examples range from parking structure signs on Fourth Street blocking the view of on-coming traffic, to problems with the bus benches, and from unenforced noise regulations to infrequent bus service. This affects people of all ages, not only seniors.

Here’s a reality: for all the efforts to make Santa Monica into the youthful city of the future, baby boomers make up over 40% of the city’s residents. These folks face increasing challenges with mobility, vision, hearing and response times. Santa Monica has been very active in developing services for seniors, people with disabilities and low-income folks, as can be seen on the City’s web site. But an approach based on service is only one component of a successful all-ages city. The physical “user-interface” is just as important. Make the city friendly and easy to use, and everyone’s life here improves. The new “scramble” crosswalks downtown are an excellent example.

It’s a matter of making it easier for people to use the city : provide street shade throughout the year, reduce ear-shattering noise from buses, trucks and motorcycles, make places where people can sit, relax and socialize, help pedestrians feel safe crossing the street or walking down the sidewalk, provide frequent bus service. These are all features of age-friendly cities that benefit all residents, regardless of their age.
What makes a successful age-friendly city? The World Health Organization has a checklist used by many cities. A few examples:
• The city is clean, with enforced regulations limiting noise levels and unpleasant or harmful odors in public places.
• Outdoor seating is available, especially in parks, transport stops and public spaces, and spaced at regular intervals; the seating is well-maintained and patrolled to ensure safe access by all.
• There are separated cycle paths for cyclists.
• Public transport is reliable and frequent (including services at night and week-ends).
• Transport stops are located close to where older people live, are provided with seating and shelter from the weather, are clean and safe, and are adequately lit.
• Roads are free of obstructions that might block a driver’s vision.
• Housing design facilitates continued integration of older people into the community.

Many of these examples are very familiar to Santa Monica residents, because the city has incorporated some of them into its planning activities, but also because the city has, famously, utterly failed to incorporate others. What we need is a systematic effort to make sure that the city’s physical aspects match the needs of its residents, many of whom are not only aging themselves, but also supporting children and caring for older parents. Fixing things to help people function well in the city should be a “no-brainer” project for the highly-competent planners now working for the city.

Here are a few things the city can start doing right away.
-Join the World Health Organization’s Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities, and use their guide (and checklist) as a roadmap for the city. Some items are already done, but many others remain missing. (see: http://tinyurl.com/k2whbgd).
-Assign a planner to create a checklist of physical aging-friendly measures, and then spend several hours every single month to ensure that these items are designed and implemented, and that this “all-ages” urban design plan includes all the projects within the city limits (including parks and bus stops). No more stand-alone organizational silos, uncoordinated with other projects around town.
-Amend zoning to allow two-story apartment buildings (so-called “dingbat” buildings) to be turned into much-needed small assisted-living facilities. Many of these buildings are ideally situated for this activity, both in their age-friendly locations and in their physical layout, which would allow staff and support spaces upstairs, and resident care rooms downstairs.
-Enforce the noise and smoking laws. The downtown bus stops have become outdoor smoking rooms, a health hazard for all bus users and especially those with respiratory problems. Enforce the noise rules by ticketing muffler-less motorcycles and other vehicles that, apart from destroying the peace and quiet of many neighborhoods, also pose health hazards in the dense downtown areas.
-Fix the bus stops throughout the city, provide protection from the sun where possible, and increase service frequency.
-Fix the parking structure signs downtown. They are located at the exact height to obstruct the view of on-coming traffic.

These are just a few items to help start making this an “all-ages” city. The City should affiliate with the WHO Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities, and take a cue from New York’s Aging Improvement Districts, as one example. (see: http://tinyurl.com/kwn2v3x). Let’s plan and design this city to make it comfortable and usable for everyone.
Daniel Jansenson, Architect, for SMa.r.t.

Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow: Thane Roberts AIA, Robert H. Taylor AIA, Daniel Jansenson Architect, Ron Goldman FAIA, Samuel Tolkin Architect, Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA, Planning Commissioner, Phil Brock, Arts Commissioner

Riptides Ahead For Local Coastal Plan

Local Coastal Plan

While the focus and attention of many residents has been on the development of Santa Monica’s controversial Downtown Community Plan (DCP), another plan is also due for final draft release and potential adoption in 2017. Yes, there is more than one planning document underway and they overlap. Confused? Yep, so are we. While the Downtown Community Plan has had its share of preliminary controversy (including the projected 12-story Plaza At Santa Monica and other tall, dense projects to come) the Santa Monica Local Coastal Plan has been skim-boarding along our shoreline.

Let’s take a look at the Local Coastal Plan (LCP.) The California Coastal Act was adopted in 1976. The State acknowledged the importance of the California coast as a regional and statewide public resource and established policies to ensure that the State’s interests are given proper consideration in the development of its coast. The California Coastal Commission assumed the direct responsibility for the protection of California’s magnificent coastline and each coastal city was supposed to follow up with its own local coastal plan to delineate the conditions and issues within that city. There are two components to the LCP. The Land Use Plan (LUP) and the Implementation Plan. Santa Monica’s last Land Use Plan was certified in 1992. However an Implementation Plan was never certified.

In 2015 the Planning Department began to compile a new LCP. It consists of a Land Use Plan combined with an Implementation Plan that would be approved by the Coastal Commission. It would then act in place of the layered authority that exists today, with the Coastal Commission currently holding final sway over development from the high tide line to Lincoln Boulevard south of Pico Blvd, and to 4th Street north of Pico.

While the Coastal Commission has recently been plagued with administrative issues and commissioner conflicts, it is the only appeal option to overturn municipal planning decisions along our coastline. In fact, residents in Venice regularly turn to the Coastal Commission to assist in their attempts to preserve their community’s character and history.

Santa Monica’s Planning Department website asserts that our city’s downtown has dramatically changed since 1992. The planners are correct in that assertion. “New public buildings in the Civic Center; Tongva Park and the Village; Downtown pedestrian, bike and transit enhancements; renewed activity on the Pier; the Annenberg Beach House; the Expo Terminus Station and the Colorado Esplanade are some of the most significant changes that have occurred since the last LCP was certified.”

The City’s website goes on to state that “The General Plan Land Use & Circulation Element (LUCE), along with City-adopted specific plans and action plans have introduced progressive policies that foster movement into and around the Coastal Zone by providing a variety of choices, thereby reducing vehicle trips and parking demand, relieving congestion and promoting clean air.”

Once we stopped chuckling at the claim that Santa Monica has reduced parking demand (why build more parking lots then?), relieved congestion (really?) and promoted clean air (do endless traffic jams really lead to clean air?), we began to wonder why the Coastal Commission has approved all the changes that have occurred in our downtown. If they have been our extra layer of protection then maybe they are not effective enough. But that then begs the question: Will the City be more mindful of our coastal region without the Coastal Commission’s final approval? We know that the City uses the Coastal Commission as a scapegoat when needed. For instance, City Hall has informed residents that the Coastal Commission might not approve a playing field for the thousand-plus students who play sports at Santa Monica High School because some of the parking in the Santa Monica Civic Parking lot would be sacrificed. In this case, the Coastal Commission is being used to justify an $85 million dollar expense for the building of an underground parking lot.

So which is it? Is the Coastal Commission merely a patsy for our planners or does that Commission wield any real control? Will our residents be better off without the extra oversight? Currently, all development projects, City plans and plan amendments that are located within the City’s Coastal Zone require dual permitting. The City gives its approval and then an application must also be made to the California Coastal Commission. This results in more fees and more time consumed. The Local Coastal Plan Update will eliminate the need for Coastal Commission approval along Santa Monica’s coastal areas. Therein may be the potential rub. Do our residents trust that the City planning process will protect Ocean Park, work in conjunction with the Downtown Community Plan and protect the northwestern part of the city from developer greed?

The LCP will also look at the potential for devastating sea level rise as global warming continues to increase. It will focus on continued access to our fabled pier by those of limited mobility, and on protection of endangered birds along Santa Monica’s coastline. All of those goals are laudable. We’ll all have to decide whether California Coastal Commission oversight is necessary to help dampen the exuberant forces of development in Santa Monica – or can our City’s planning process be trusted to protect our fragile community?

We’ll be watching. You should be as well.

Phil Brock for SMa.r.t

Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow: Thane Roberts AIA, Robert H. Taylor AIA, Daniel Jansenson Architect, Ron Goldman FAIA, Samuel Tolkin Architect, Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA, Planning Commissioner, Phil Brock, Arts Commissioner

A Six Pack of City Defining Areas

Common Sense, Development Agreements, Downtown Community Plan, Fact vs. Fiction, Infrastructure Planning, light and air, LImiting Height & Density, Listening to Stakeholders, Long-Term Strategy & LIving Within Our Means, Neighborhood Improvement Districts, Planning, Plaza at Santa Monica, Preservation and Adaptive Reuse, Reclaiming Civic/Architectural Culture, Santa Monica's Opportunity Sites, Sense of Place, Spirit of the City, Sustainable City, The Value of Low-Rise Buildings, Transportation, Urban Design & Architecture, Water Conservation, Wicked Problems and Profit-making, Zoning and Development Agreements

In our built out City, there are six significant areas of land whose eventual development will have an inordinate impact on the future of our City. Development of these areas, if left to today’s “market forces” without considering the big picture. may result in in an irretrievably lost opportunity that could distort our City for decades. We invite all residents to think futuristically about our City plan as a whole, and to understand the importance these six critical areas and how they should be woven into the fabric of our community:

1. DOWNTOWN SPECIFIC PLAN. This is the heart of the City being subjected to incredible development pressures. Its already in constant gridlock  (despite the new EXPO line), with current development of over 500 approved new units, and faced with thousands more in the pipeline including several super sized projects (5th and Arizona, Miramar etc.) on the horizon.  Additional issues include preserving historical buildings, allowing for a soon to be needed elementary school, expanding the pedestrian feel of the Third Street Promenade, and addressing the lack of park space. In the next few months residents will be able to weigh in on the proposed Specific Plan to tell the City staff and Council what kind of downtown they would. like to see.

 2. BERGAMOT STATION. This is the east gateway to our City where 50,000 daily visitors arrive via the EXPO, plus thousands of commuters arrive via the 10 freeway. Currently, the art galleries in old factory buildings are struggling to survive the pressures of new development. The adjacent City yards with trash, recycling and fire dept. are wedged in with a mixture of new and old commercial uses. The Bergamot Specific Plan will determine which of these elements should be incentivized to remain and which should be relocated.  Should new uses (hotels, theaters, College expansion) be considered in the future along with the galleries?

3. MEMORIAL PARK.  This area is currently a low-rise neighborhood of residences and light industrial uses wrapped around a highly used park and playing fields served by a light rail stop.  Should this become a high density node? Should this centrally located park expand and be tilted toward athletics or other uses? Finally there are Public Works City yards nearby at the old Fisher Lumber site whose future is uncertain.  Again a future Specific Plan will determine what happens here.

4. CIVIC CENTER PLAN. This is a critical collision of public needs including a new high tech expansion to a historic City Hall, a historic auditorium needing a multimillion dollar rehab, an impacted high school without sufficient playing fields, a proposed daycare structure, and all the existing public services (police, courts, parking structure). Each one of these uses has fierce partisan advocates, so the residents will have to effectively adjudicate what they eventually want to see here.

5. LOCAL COASTAL PLAN (LCP). Our beaches are the lungs of LA and provide a respite from heat for all the Westside to Downtown and to the Valley. Coastal access (in all its forms: transportation, eating and hotels) is therefore vital to the health of the entire region. This will be increasingly significant as global warming cooks people out of the inland areas and sea level rise shrinks the available beach area.  The LCP will help determine the extent to which development can occur beachside.  There are questions whether the City can afford to subsidize public beach events such as the Thursday night Pier concerts. And finally, absent new water sources, with continued growth we will likely need an area for a desalinization plant. Residents will need to decide how much to invest in our beaches to benefit others and to protect them (or retreat) from sea level rise.

6. AIRPORT. Finally the big one, there are 227 acres of land (not including the business park south of Ocean Park Blvd., which we will address as a separate issue) that will be freed up if the airport closes in 2029.  In that event that, we can as a City start to envision how we might optimize the re-use of that land. Should this be the new Santa Monica College? Should this be a giant park? Should this consolidate all the City Yards? Should it be an extended silicone beach 2.0? Should it be acres of solar collectors and or windmills for our City’s energy independence? Should it be affordable housing? Should it be a combination of all those activities? For every solution proposed, special attention will be needed to address the gridlock that every day besets the entire South East quadrant of the City.

What these six areas have in common is that they must fit into an overarching City Master Plan. They are pieces of a puzzle that needs to work together. That plan will require the collective wisdom and political commitment of all the residents and not just reflect the immediate needs of developers. SMart invites everyone to become informed and to actively participate to realize their vision of Santa Monica’s future.

By Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA for

Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow

Sam Tolkin, Architect; Dan Jansenson, Architect; Mario Fonda-Bonardi, AIA, Planning Commissioner; Ron Goldman, FAIA;  Thane Roberts, AIA; Bob. Taylor, AIA; Phil Brock, Arts Commissioner

ET TU ECEC?

ECEC

At a recent Council meeting (2/28/17) there was a discussion about building the long promised and needed sports field at the corner of Pico and Fourth which is a portion of the Civic Center Specific Plan, adopted more than ten years ago and modified at least twice since.

While it appears there will be forward progress on implementing either a temporary, or permanent, sports field, it is frustrating to see that concern for parking, or loss thereof, is now suddenly being raised, once again, in an attempt to delay the sports field. There were County Court employees that spoke against the project at the council for example, claiming a loss of 600 parking spaces and that will hinder their functioning as a viable courthouse. The Coastal Commission has supposedly questioned the potential loss of parking for beach and visitor access, Finally, scare tactics were rolled out about how the restoration of the Civic Auditorium will be allegedly impossible if the temporary field were installed. These are all spurious arguments because the big Civic Center parking structure was built EXPRESSLY for replacing the spaces that would indeed be lost when the Civic Center plan was fully implemented. And we know the Auditorium has plenty of space on all 4 sides for construction staging during its restoration, so the temporary or permanent field should have no impact on its restoration feasibility.

Now that we have built that five story parking structure and are ready to implement the sports field, which is part of the original Civic center plan and has the most public support, suddenly there’s not enough parking? What has changed is relatively clear. First, the City allowed promenade businesses employees to park there, then SAMOHI staff and students were allowed to park, and finally City employees, who are privileged to park for free, piled on.  Along the way, the City allowed expansion onto approximately 20% of the parking lot for SMC to build a privately run child care center, known as the Early Childhood Education Center (ECEC), but without requiring replacement parking for the area they occupy and suddenly the parking we built and paid for is not adequate for the Civic Center sports field development.

Allowing free parking for City employees and others including the additional employees that will come with the new overpriced $80 million City Hall Expansion building, creating a disincentive to walk, bike and use public transit, e.g. the Expo, and net result is a maxed out parking structure. Having used up so much of the parking structure intended for development of the Civic Center, the athletes and students may be faced with having to pursue a 2018 bond to get the sports field they had been promised decades ago.

The impact of the ECEC at the Civic Center is particularly painful. The ECEC has received two Council approved amendments to the original Specific Plan, ballooning the proposed building to an even larger footprint in both square footage and height. It is proposed to serve 110 toddlers, of which about thirty-five are ‘promised’, thanks to the hard fought effort of Council Member Himmelrich, to be available to Santa Monica residents. Without having to provide replacement parking, the ECEC was rewarded with a lease of $1 a year for 55 years or more, plus given $5 million dollars to kick start the project. Meanwhile the City set back for another 3 months the  $2 million temporary sports field they approved a year ago! Essentially it appears that the needs of the 75 toddlers, likely kids of City and Rand employees, and of court judges, are more important than the needs of 3000 SAMO high students, and thousands of AYSO, Pop Warner, and La Crosse players.

It was stated at a council meeting that the original agreement between the City and SMC had expired and that to date there may no longer be an actual signed and obligated agreement. Ironically SMC just spent $5 million to purchase the former YWCA property near 14 th and Pico. That YWCA structure is of comparable size to the proposed Civic Center ECEC and has largely functioned as an ECEC having indoor/outdoor play areas, offices and classroom space. It has parking, and as it is adjacent to the main campus, would not create additional traffic coming and going between locations. SMart is supportive of childcare and early education, but the residents and our impacted high school needs the sports field, particularly since they lost their baseball field, and the SAMOHI campus has no place to expand.

A public representative foolishly said passing a bond will delay the field’s completion by “only” 18 months. But passing bonds is not easy or quick. Already burdened with 3 sales tax increases and a recent 350 million dollar SMC bond, a field bond will have to garner 2/3 of voters support, be affordable, and available when residents are not feeling pinched. The Civic Auditorium will be on that bond as well, and, like all historical building restorations, it will be delicate, slow and more costly than just a temporary field. The uncertainties of a new bond would mean that no child would likely play on a Civic Center field for at least another seven years.

SMC can, and should, utilize their newly purchased YWCA site for the ECEC, and the City should use the $5million promised to SMC to build the temporary sports field, and then pursue the 2018 Bond. Without the ECEC there is less parking loss and less squeezing of the sports field from regulation size to practice size, and less excuse that it will hinder the Civic Auditorium restoration. The Civic Center is simply the wrong place for a privately run childcare center serving only 35 resident toddlers and it should not be the cause of delaying or killing a sports field that will serve thousands of local kids and adults.

Bob Taylor, AIA
for Santa Monica Architects For A Responsible Tomorrow

Robert H. Taylor AIA; Ron Goldman FAIA; Dan Jansenson Architect; Thane Roberts AIA, Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA Planning Commissioner; Sam Tolkin Architect; Phil Brock Arts Commissioner

A Costly City Services Building…..is it Worth it?

City Services Building

 

Since Santa Monica has outgrown its City Hall, its staff are currently scattered across our City. The placement of the New City Services Building (CSB) behind our historic City Hall building will resolve this issue. Although its understated design may diminish its visual impact on our historic City Hall, its budget will not. Because it was initially designed to the highest level of sustainability, it could cost up to 3 times a typical office building- 86 million dollars ($ 1,720/SF). This does not include the financing that will add an additional $ 80 million.

Will this project’s sustainable solutions find their way into the mainstream or is it a one-time “vanity project”? Are the 30 to 50 million additional dollars this building will cost worth it? Will these costly Green features lay the groundwork for future City projects? It is unlikely. Why? Many of the technologies are still unproven, not allowed under current codes or the benefits do not justify the costs. Below are a few places where the City might better spend the residents’ tax dollars and in a manner where they might benefit both the community as well as the environment.

If the City’s goal is to be cutting edge, perhaps it should research the emerging technology of small Natural Gas Powered Generators and Fuel Cells. Power plants are becoming smaller to the point where they could serve a City Block or small community. Mini–grids that are “crowd sourced” might also be supplemented by photovoltaic arrays that could benefit from more favorable siting and economies of scale vs. single-family systems.

Like many municipalities, Santa Monica has its own solid waste facility and garbage collection but has only a limited recycling program. Jane Jacobs was one of the first to suggest that our waste should be a resource rather than a burden. For example, Alexandria, Virginia has a “Waste to Energy” program where they convert 350,000 tons of garbage per year into 23 Megawatts of electricity that is enough for 20,000 homes- more than the number of households in Santa Monica. This process is the final step in the “reduce, reuse and recycle” program that limits the amount of garbage going into their landfills. It is one of 86 facilities in the USA. There are 400 such facilities in Europe. This is a City investment that could pay big dividends for the ENTIRE community and set an example for our neighboring cities as well.

Cities like Santa Monica have addressed the problem of sewage and limited water resources by tackling these disparate problems simultaneously. The Orange County Water District (OCWD) has had a 3 step water treatment plant since 1968 that can convert 100,000/gals/day of sewage into potable water for 85,000 people- just under Santa Monica’s population. Wouldn’t this be a better investment than composting toilets that are not currently allowed by code in Santa Monica? Wouldn’t a proactive rainwater catchment or reclamation of grey water be a better use of City funds? A desalination plant, although costly, might still be a better investment than what is proposed for the CSB.

Since all sides of the CSB appear similar, it seems unlikely that their orientations have been addressed individually. West facing walls with afternoon sun pose different challenges than those facing north with less light. CSB has an “active solar system” for electricity but ‘passive systems” can be as effective and require no equipment or electricity. Passive measures can be as basic as: a) using different materials and sun control on facades according to their orientation, b) providing windows for proper ventilation or c) storing energy in thick, high mass walls. They can compliment Active Systems by the reducing cooling and heating loads. Often, they add little or no additional costs to the project.

These are only a few of the many ‘sustainable’ projects that would make more sense than “dressing up” the new CSB with impractical and costly technologies. The CSB systems will have little effect on the City’s overall energy /resource/waste “footprint” or set a useful example for our City’s residents or businesses. We recommend that the City redesign the CSB project to put a greater emphasis on Passive Design and set an example for the community. The money saved by the redesign of the CSB should provide ample funds for one or more of the City-wide projects mentioned above. This approach would both reduce the City’s energy ‘footprint’ and provide a direct benefit for its residents.

Of course, there are many other places as well where the money saved on the CSB could be better spent. Here are just a few suggestions: 1) Remote Metering for Commercial tenants to enable the separate monitoring of their usage; 2) Funding of low-interest earthquake retrofits for low-income apartments; 3) Placement of additional solar arrays on public buildings (schools, libraries, parking structures etc.); 4) funding a department within Building and Safety to promote and consult on passive design; or 5) an educational program to teach our children the importance of conservation.

Thane Roberts AIA for:

SM a.r.t. Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow
Ron Goldman FAIA, Thane Roberts AIA, Bob Taylor AIA, Dan Jansenson Architect, Sam Tolkin Architect, Phil Brock Arts Commission. SMa.r.t. is a group of Santa Monica Architects concerned about the city’s future. For previous articles, please see santamonicaarch.wordpress.com/writing.