Where is the there, there?

Why I never/seldom go downtown and never really want to go there.

What is downtown for me, a resident of Ocean Park? The Apple store. Maybe. What else is there? Barnes & Noble is said to be leaving, though a new/used bookstore has just opened near 2nd Street. Otherwise, just the same national chains rattling their goods.

The traffic is a stumbling block to go in the event that I would be stopping for some reason, or while enroute to other destinations in other parts of the city or out of. A recent analysis in USA Today, not a fake news report, has shown that of those across the country that have complained about unbearable traffic, downtown Santa Monica comes up number one!

You really need to ask yourself what is responsible for this achievement of being #1 in gridlock.

For a little icing on the cake, Santa Monica also wins accolades from the California Chapter American Planning Association (APA) as a “Great Places In California” for “…fostering a built environment that focuses on what human beings want communal places to offer, which includes activity, social contact, comfort, diversity, and entertainment. Downtown Santa Monica thrives as a great place because City planners recognized more than 50 years ago that lively pedestrian activity was the secret to creating and maintaining a thriving shopping district. The Downtown Santa Monica area can be characterized as open and accessible, yet it provides intimate, comfortable spaces; has an active and bustling pedestrian environment, connecting tranquil beaches and parks. It thrives with international visitors year-round, yet still serves as a primary community meeting place for residents of the City of Santa Monica.” Hmmm, maybe the jurists didn’t drive down from Sacramento and take a look, and with the uptick in bike accidents they probably didn’t ride either.

There are fewer local mom and pop shops left that offer something unique or special to draw me there. There is no central plaza or park offering some sort of community activity (contrary to the APA statement above) that would draw me, except possibly the ice rink in the winter, (and City Hall Council Chambers on Tuesday and Wednesday nights). And that skating venue, I would argue, is in jeopardy given the City Council’s continuing entertaining of a massive commercial office and hotel project on that site, and their continued record of pursuing and approving large scale projects.

Movies? Rarely, and as access is such a painful experience it is simply easier to go to the Marina, or even Westwood or Playa Vista, when I do want to see a film in large format.

There is a push by the city to advocate and develop more housing downtown, but one should ask the question of “why?” There is no elementary school in the downtown and none proposed in the Downtown Community Plan (DCP), so who is the housing aimed at. Singles? No apparent intent to generate established families setting roots. There is no public open space proposed in the DCP, except for the definition of streets, and balconys, and roof tops, as open space, so that too doesn’t seem to bode well for families should ever there be some that move downtown. Does it seem a desirable way to raise a family by having the only outside play area be The Promenade or the streets and sidewalks of commercial development, but no green space, no open play areas within reasonable safe walking distance for small children.

There will be those that will argue there is Tongva Park, but that would require kids and their parents/caretakers to cross the freeway. Not to mention that those play areas are adjacent to the most toxic pollution in the city, the freeway. There is of course our beach, but that too requires a long walk and in no way satisfies or complies with the generally accepted standards that open space park area should be within one quarter mile of any housing.

Let’s face it, downtown as it exists, and as it is proposed in the DCP, is not a kid or family friendly place. The Promenade is merely the equivalent of Universal Studios “City Walk” amusement park and is not a neighborhood for families. It seems reminiscent of Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” depiction of growing up under the Coney Island roller coaster, rather than growing up in our beachfront town.

And with the DCP continuing to propose the several sites, now euphemistically referred to as “established opportunity sites,” that far exceed the zoning in which those sites are located, and will ostensibly be approved given the current council lust for development, the notion of raising a family in the newly defined downtown area challenges the imagination as a depiction of a California beach community. Hear that CCAPA? The proposed heights for the “opportunists” will cast shadows across our streets and onto adjacent buildings potentially reducing the effective solar collection areas of the impacted adjacencies, and other than the fact that yes we can build tall, it’s even easy to do so, there is no documentation that shows why we should. So why is the current administration so intent on this non-sustainable path to change our beachfront community into what will be just another look alike dense urban environment. We really are more unique than that, aren’t we?


Bob Taylor, AIA

For SM.a.r.t. – Sam Tolkin Architect, Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA Planning Commissioner, Thane Roberts AIA, Ron Goldman FAIA, Dan Jansenson Architect, Phil Brock, Arts Commissioner.