Residents are lamenting the turn our beach town has taken in the last few years, and sadly it is not for the better. Mom & Pop stores and services are closing. Crime is up significantly. Homelessness seems to have increased, and from reading the various comments made on the local Santa Monica Facebook pages, there are more violent right wing comments being made within the various local pages. As recent violent incidents have occurred there are even those few who have posted about wanting concealed carry permits. The wild west all over again. One wonders and speculates about the root causes of this decline in our quality of life.
I pointed out in a previous column that our police vehicles were once blue and white, representative of a more peaceful beachfront town, but changed to a more aggressive urban presentation with the cars becoming traditional large city black & whites. And now there seems even to be unmarked, black ‘stealth’ SUV’s on the street. Why the shift? The change as I remember seemed to have begun when the City started re-writing it’s General Plan and LUCE (Land Use Circulation Element) which, as we witness, was the beginning of the intensive over-development that we are experiencing. About ten years now of accelerated over-development, most especially within the expanded downtown borders apparently requires that urban police ‘look’.
In last years election, the residents, voted to limit the number of years council members will be able to serve. Many of the council members are deeply, and apparently safely, encapsulated as members, year after year, due to the one-party power structure that seems to control our City politics. And it was about time for the term limits, as there were, and are, members sitting right now that have been there for well over twenty years and obviously are a part of the problem in the land speculation and over-development that has caused the decline in our quality of life. Faced with term limits may in fact be one of the motivating elements for them to continue their fight against what are already court-mandated district elections, at what appears to be at a cost to the residents in excess of $20 million, though no one seems to be able to find the exact and projected costs to date. It is also ironic that at least one, though there had been two, council member(s) also live(d) in rent-controlled apartments, and yet by their continued approval of expensive, high rent, small, non-family oriented units, long-time residents and lower-income families have been economically forced to leave their homes. There is something wrong with the system that is allowing this to occur.
SMa.r.t., over the last several years, have been describing how to better plan “responsibly” rather than in the reckless manner that you see around you. It is worth noting of course, that support for continued over-development seemingly comes solely from those people that stand to gain, one way or another, from the growth and development devouring our town. People that cannot see the difference between downtown Los Angeles, and our beach facing Ocean Avenue, for example. People that seem to think lining Ocean Ave., and Ocean Front walk, with large scale multi-story commercial, hotel/condo projects, currently three in the pipeline, is desirable. Unfortunately some of those ‘people’ also occupy seats on the City Council. We at SMa.r.t., and it appears six of the seven neighborhood groups, are also very concerned about the continuing processing, by the council, of our resident/City owned land at 4th/5th & Arizona, a proposed private development of a 12-story commercial/hotel project on the site contrary to the “Central Park” or “Public Plaza” that the majority of residents seem to desire. And note that within the newly created “downtown”, bounded by Ocean Ave to Lincoln, and the Freeway to Wilshire, and described in the City’s Downtown Community Plan, there is no land area designated as park or open space. It is hard to think of the commercial 3rd St Promenade as ‘open space’.
Some supporters of the over-development we are experiencing attempt to ‘justify’ it by crying “housing crisis”. Yet the proposed, more than 350,000 sq. ft. 12 story project at 4th/5th & Arizona, even with a small corner of the site left open as a small plaza, will probably have a daily work occupancy of close to 2000, but with only 48 housing units, further exacerbating the jobs/housing imbalance. And typical of the development approvals, in spite of ordinances that require 30 percent “affordable” units (much too little), it is our understanding that of the multitude of units approved in the last 5+ years, it appears only about 12 percent are deemed affordable.
So, we point out the negatives that are being foisted upon the residents by developers with the obvious blessing of a handful of people on the Council and planning department, and commissions that don’t even require their members to be residents.
And while several on this council are fighting hard to appeal the District Election judgement, there will still be another election next year, and it will be up to all of us to show up at the polls and vote for some new blood, as it seems very clear that unless stopped, the current political structure at City Hall is going to keep on doing exactly what it has been doing for the last many years. Enough!
Bob Taylor, AIA
Santa Monica Architects For A Responsible Tomorrow