Survival at the Edge of the Sea!

~ The city’s well-being index for 2019 notes that only 20% of Santa Monica residents feel that they have any influence over city decisions. Think of this astounding statistic: 68% of our city’s residents have thought about moving out of Santa Monica in the past three years. Is there any wonder when residents face sky-high taxes? The astronomical sales tax, utility tax, and the doubling of water rates are among the burdens we face living in Santa Monica. Also, there is a helplessness residents feel when it takes months to get a simple permit through city hall or get transparency from our city administration about veiled, back-room decisions.

~ Our town suffered two tragic suicides over the past week. How are we, as a community, failing each other?

~ We’ve talked about the high cost of paying city staff salaries, benefits, and related pensions before. Here’s another way to look at those stratospheric numbers. The best measure is the total employee compensation cost per capita. The median for California cities has an employee cost per resident of $540. That number for Santa Monica is $3,550. We are #2 in salaries with Beverly Hills coming in at 1st place. Expect to see our municipal unions and at-will upper echelon city department heads seek salary bumps immediately so that they can regain the #1 slot!

~The Third Street Promenade had another nail pounded into its coffin when Banana Republic shuttered its doors in the old JC Penney space at the corner of Wilshire and Third recently. At the same time, a property owner in the Broadway block said that he was happy to keep his retail space vacant until a national retailer wants in. The landlord is charging $90,000/month rent, and the property has been empty for over a year. The landlord needs to reassess his stance, lower his rent, and attract retailers who will serve the community. The Promenade needs resuscitation now, not in a five-year plan that will cost $60 Million.

~ The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) wants to impose gigantic new housing production requirements over the next decade in Santa Monica These requirements will change the character and livability of our town forever. We have received larger quotas than other coastal communities because we always exceed SCAG’s rental unit guidelines. Santa Monica is successful in attracting a workforce that commutes daily by light rail, bus, and auto; however, we will never be able to house that entire workforce. And, since people change jobs continuously, housing/workforce will never be balanced. Being at the edge of the sea, we have no space to expand. Thus, the City of Santa Monica needs to reduce the number of people who work here. The state wants us to balance those numbers by requiring over 9000 new housing units. The last thing we want to add to Santa Monica is more hotels, high rise apartments, and new high occupancy office space. It just exacerbates the problem. We suggest a different solution. We know we have an excess of people working in Santa Monica each day. Let’s institute a moratorium on any new hotel and commercial development. Eliminate up-zoning. Adopt policies to encourage the conversion of industrial buildings into residential buildings, and have these systems stay in place until housing reaches parity with employment. Cheer when Culver City attracts another high occupancy office complex. Let’s reduce the imbalance by reducing the demand and make our city livable again.

~ It is insanity to continue to put low-income housing in cities that have the most expensive land. It is insane that Community Corp is Santa Monica’s largest landlord. If the city had not been encouraging gentrification by up zoning, rental unit costs would be manageable for all income levels.

~ e-Scooter madness continues in Santa Monica. While the council adjusted the pilot program recently, over two thousand scooters are still allowed on the streets. That’s far too many for a city our size. It’s great that there are more exclusion zones; however, the unorganized chaos still reigns. The City Council didn’t solve the e-scooter problem with the second rendition of a pilot program; they just tried to dissipate resident frustration.

~ The Pico Neighborhood contains the City Yards, the Metro repair yard, and the remnants of our industrial past. We have doubled the size of Virginia Avenue Park, added a stellar branch of our library system, opened Ishihara Park, yet Gandara Park is still contaminated as it sits on a former city dump. While we’re rebuilding the city yards next door, let’s resurface Gandara Park and make sure the soil is clean enough for our children to play on.

~The Mid-City Neighborhood is the receptacle for our new & used car sales lots. They are a huge source of our sales tax revenue, yet for decades, auto-delivery trailers have clogged up our neighborhoods with multiple pollutants daily. The city is supposed to ensure that the trailers deliver cars outside of the residential zones. Let’s enforce those rules.

~ We expect nitrates in hot dogs but not in our drinking water. The Environmental Working Group released a study last week that shows contaminants in Santa Monica’s drinking water that are at 30 ppm for both Nitrates and Nitrites. The national legal limit (set in 1962) is 10ppm. Nitrate and nitrite enter the water from fertilizer runoff, septic tanks, and urban runoff. These contaminants can cause oxygen deprivation for infants and increase the risk of cancer. Nitrite is significantly more toxic than nitrate. We will expect to see a rapid response from our Water Department.

~ If the city does not protest the SCAG housing rules, then we will have a One Million Gallon shortage of water each year beginning in 2030 as well as a significant exodus of current residents. All of our new wells and water conservation methods will be for naught. A clear message: Protest the proposed SCAG edicts.

~ One of the most beautiful parkways in Southern California is Santa Monica’s San Vicente Blvd, yet it is brown and dusty through most of the year. Beverly Hills keeps Sunset Blvd green year-around by using reclaimed water. Why can’t we do the same? While we’re at it, the Historic San Vicente District is still awaiting simple signage to acknowledge the beautiful courtyard and garden-style apartments on the street. It’s been over four years since signage was promised!

~ A priest and a parish guard were assaulted in St Monica’s Church Tuesday. St. Monica’s refused to prosecute. While SMPD reduced Part 1 crimes by 16% in 2019, it is not enough. We applaud the efforts of our men and women in blue. However, crime stats still show a double-digit increase over four years. Residents still see homelessness throughout our city. Enforce all city ordinances and encourage private citizens and institutions to report all crimes.

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.

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