Looking at Santa Monica with 20/20 Vision

It’s a new year, and as most people have already made and broken their 2020 resolutions, it’s time to take a look at Santa Monica and what our recommendations are for our town.

~Use public land for public purposes. The city-owned area stretching from 4th to 5th Street and bordering Arizona cannot become another high rise. The greater good is the deciding factor. In our town with too little park space, it means public space, now and forever.

~We are all tired of our parks, streets, libraries, and alleys becoming depositories for the mentally ill and homeless populations. One hundred nineteen homeless humans per square mile is the conservative estimate. Compare that to Manhattan Beach at 5.5 and Newport Beach at 1.2 homeless humans per square mile, and it’s clear to every resident and visitor in Santa Monica that we have no solutions. Our hearts hang heavy for those who have lost their way and their homes; however, we now have “homeless tourism” in Santa Monica. We have all become too accepting of the status quo. Our city leadership has failed. 2020 must be the year that we solve the homeless tragedy, and then reclaim our public safety, our streets, our libraries, and our civic pride.

~The city continues to add staff members, over 100 in the past four years, even as they continue to find ways to tax our residents more. Our sales tax rate, absurdly high utility taxes, and the looming threat of higher wastewater and water service rates tax us to the breaking point. Yet, 3,114 city staff members (the most per capita in California) make a median salary and benefits package of $130,862 (2018). Our taxes paid staff $326,960,289 in 2018. The next time the city council threatens to cut services to residents, they need to look in the mirror first. Neither Santa Barbara, Manhattan Beach, Pasadena, nor Newport Beach has the amount of city staff we have nor the ceiling breaking salaries of the City of Santa Monica. Perhaps our highly compensated City Manager ($472,172 salary/benefits) will decide to take real steps to reduce the budgetary excess, not by reducing services to children and seniors, but by cutting the amount of senior staff in our city.

~ We will commit to public art by saving the art spaces in Bergamot Station. If need be, we will further subsidize the rent at Bergamot, especially since the City Council is willing to sell our soul for another hotel. We’ll celebrate public art through the construction of a public art trail. And, heads must roll after the disastrous loss of the mosaic at 2600 Wilshire Blvd.

~ The City and DTSM seem flummoxed that they have destroyed the Golden Egg of Downtown Santa Monica. Residents stay away because of parking woes, safety concerns, and fleeing businesses. The city’s consultants have declared that it is the fault of the “sidewalks.” It is the fault of greed and lack of concern for residents. Downtown worked when the city cared. As crime increased, parking rates skyrocketed, and businesses residents wanted to shop at got chased away by developer greed.
On top of that, traffic became gridlocked throughout downtown. The city can restore two hours of free parking in the city parking structures. Big Blue Bus must offer free service within Santa Monica to residents; after all, it is supposed to be OUR bus line. Santa Monica Police must be visible on foot and bicycle in and around what’s left of our crumbling promenade. The City Manager and City Council need to use the bully pulpit to get developers in line so that stores and shops relevant to our residents take hold. It is a shame that only 12% of residents visit our downtown. Here’s a clue, it is not because of the sidewalks.

~We continue to hear about our dire housing shortage, both in our region and in Santa Monica. Let’s be clear; there is no shortage of high priced housing in Santa Monica or the surrounding areas. Every time you nod your head in agreement when you hear “housing shortage,” you are agreeing with developers who are destroying our town. What we have is a housing shortage caused by developers who are gentrifying whole swaths of our city and chasing out the housing for working-class families. We have a working-class housing shortage caused by the rapid increase in rents beyond the CPI index, assisted by city hall acquiescence to developers trying to maximize profits. Tackling “developer greed” can be an easy task for the city staff to control. They need to wrap their minds about controlling those excesses. Building more “market-rate” housing helps destroy our community and adds nothing to the fabric and thread of Santa Monica. Preserve existing housing and allow our residents to stay in place and live in peace. Stop destroying Santa Monica!

“What we have is a housing shortage caused by developers who are gentrifying whole swaths of our city and chasing out the housing for working-class families,”

Phil Brock for SMa.r.t.

~More hotels, more high rises, Say NO! 4th & Arizona, Michigan at Cloverfield, Santa Monica Blvd at Ocean Avenue are among the new projects coming to the Planning Commission and City Council. Twelve stories times three (including the Miramar “re-model”) plus a six-story hotel at Bergamot Station. Listen to the wise words of the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City and Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow concerning these projects. If the City Council and related commissions say yes to these oversized, unneeded mid and high rise projects, then SAY NO to them.

~We have metal debris on our streets, parks, lawns, sidewalks, and alleys. The city gave e-scooters their valuation, and in return, some of your neighbors visited our local hospitals with serious injuries. People in wheelchairs have lost access to our sidewalks, and some seniors have permanently lost their mobility due to bone-shattering injuries. And, even with the city painting lines and geofencing, there are still problems. When will our city’s staff and leadership begin to value our residents, of all ages, over seemingly innovative transportation options that do nothing to help the wellness of our residents? Walk a mile to the Metro line or take an e-scooter? Which helps the fitness of our residents and visitors more? Other cities in Los Angeles and Orange County continue to ban e-scooters. Why is our city council and city staff’s wisdom so stunted?

The above is just the tip of the (melting) iceberg. More next week.

By Phil Brock for SMart (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow)

Thane Roberts, Architect, Robert H. Taylor AIA, Ron Goldman FAIA, Architect, Dan Jansenson, Architect, Building and Fire-Life Safety Commission, Samuel Tolkin Architect, Mario Fonda-Bonardi, AIA, Planning Commissioner, Phil Brock, Santa Monica Arts Commission.
For previous articles see http://www.santamonicaarch.wordpress.com/writing