YOU Are the Heart of the City!

The members of SMart wrote a credo for Santa Monica in late 2013. The majority of the original members were architects, a profession whose purpose is to facilitate development. As long-term residents of Santa Monica, the architects were dismayed by the direction our city’s sunlit image had taken. Their city’s future had always seemed bright, but there was a dark turn on the horizon. An enormous prospective development loomed at 26th at Olympic (Hines) that would upend thousands of lives. Seven thousand car trips a day; intersections jammed from Brentwood to Mar Vista and no benefits for existing residents. Citizens pulled together to mobilize and beat back this unwanted development.

As they beamed with pride over their victory, SMart realized that Hines wasn’t the only pending project of alarming density. Zoning changes were in the pipeline that would allow for the “great wall” of Lincoln Blvd. “Opportunity sites” became a new buzzword, and Santa Monica was doomed to become an infill city. In the name of sustainability, the State of California would decree that almost 9,000 new housing units must be built in Santa Monica by 2030. As the residents struggled to counter each new proposed development, a realization dawned that the City Council always sided with developers and NEVER with the residents of Santa Monica.

The City Council refused to fight the state over new increased housing requirements. They decline to moderate new mixed-use projects or demand that developers set back their buildings from the streetscape and terrace the upper floors. The limits of Downtown zoning expanded so that buildings could rise taller. Developers make huge bucks while our community’s wellness shrinks, and long-time residents move away.

As our town became even denser, City Hall advocated for more. Keep piling people into our town. Who cares about quality of life? Small apartment units with huge rents led to increased gentrification and a less diverse population. Your town’s wise owls fist-bumped as each new building choked our formerly sunny streets. Our communal supply of available water decreased as new construction unfolded, and despite low flow toilets and new water capture methods, the city’s future sustainability is in jeopardy. The constant expansion causes our tree canopy to decrease and our streets to be impassable. And the solution to our common woes…the e-scooter? As they would say in New York, “Don’t get me started!”

~ As an election is on our immediate horizon, and five council seats are on the ballot, ask yourselves if the council and city administration have made your lives better over the past four years in Santa Monica. When we asked residents that question last week, the responses were savage, and some unprintable. As you view at the incumbents’ campaign websites over the next three months, look beyond their glossy bullet points and seek out their voting records instead. We know the majority of residents are firmly against a twelve-story building at 4th and Arizona. On July 28, we will have a “permanent record” of what the city council thinks of residents as they either vote to continue or choose to cease negotiations with the proposed developer of this massive out-of-scale development. Will your wishes be ignored again? If so, remember the votes they cast as you cast yours in the general election! 

~ The five principal tenets of SMart’s 2013 credo for Santa Monica have held up quite well. Now, if we just had a city council and city administration who believed in them. Let’s review.

1. To preserve Santa Monica’s “relaxed” beach culture.

Santa Monica’s temperate climate on the Pacific Rim is a defining feature of our City. The cooling sea breezes along our oceanfront have played a big part in the City’s cultural heritage and allure. The City’s “relaxed” style differentiates it from neighboring cities to the east and should be preserved-both for its residents and those who visit each year to escape “the hustle and bustle” of urban life.

2. To maximize light, air, views, and green space.

Our community’s views and skyline are disappearing due to high-walled buildings that block the ocean breeze and sunlight inland. We should continue to provide more open space and keep new construction in scale with the existing building stock. New parks and open space should be a priority.

3. To build at a human scale and for family life.

The City’s relaxed, seaside character and human scale play an essential role in its allure. The currently proposed high-rise developments that dwarf their neighbors will forever redefine the skyline and character. Multi-story projects are replacing the low-rise residential buildings that are better suited for families with fewer bedrooms and little connection to life at ground level.

4. To create a walkable, bikeable, and drivable City.

In the great European cities, the pedestrian experience is enhanced with broad sidewalks, outdoor cafes, and unique shopping opportunities. The result is a vibrant street life for pedestrians and cyclists that fosters interaction and brings the City to life. If the currently proposed developments move forward, the circulation within the City will continue to deteriorate, increasing delays and frustration for our residents.

5. To be a smart, connected, and sustainable community.

It is incumbent upon the City to ensure that our resources and facilities are adequate for the current population before allowing more growth. Sustainable technologies must become part of the City’s energy plan as it prepares for its future.

~ Lifelong resident Mark Verville points out, “In the past five years through 2021, the City will have spent north of $3.7B with annual budgets between $600M and $800M. Add to that a roughly $450M unfunded pension liability, and we have a total cumulative spend for every one of the approximately 93,000 residents, adults and children, of $45,000. Per person. A family of 4 accounts for $180,000 of cumulative spend over this period. Let’s consider:
• Has the at-risk homeless population been taken care of? Has their situation even been improved?
• How safe and clean are our parks? Our beach?
• Owing to the different needs of the neighborhoods, should Pico have been better served?
• How well has the cost of our utilities been managed? Is our utility tax too high?
• Could existential damage to the heart of our City from rioting outsiders been averted?
• How well managed and effective has the Police Activities League been in serving its kids’ needs and protecting their safety?
• How easy is it for you to dispose of your household hazardous waste?
• How safe, up to date, and integrated with our kids’ curriculum are our libraries?
• Do you feel confident about your safety while you walk our streets? Is your car or bicycle safe in our town?
Now, does your personal quality of life reflect that kind of public tax-sponsored investment? If the answer to the quality-of-life issues is No, then regardless of property values, we are not getting the quality of life we are paying for. Period.” That has to change!

~ I virtually met Ms. Jordan Schott this week. She is a co-founding member of the Student Organizing Committee of Santa Monicans for Democracy. Her message for us: “SM4D came into being about five years ago to address First Amendment issues in our City. SM4D has welcomed a student-led committee that aims to, first and foremost, amplify the Black Lives Matter message in Santa Monica. We are also firmly dedicated to demanding accountability for the violent, racist, and unconstitutional attack of May 31 st by SMPD on peaceful demonstrators. We seek to ban SMPD’s use of tear gas and rubber bullets in any future legal demonstrations. SM4D holds weekly rallies most Wednesday evenings at the Santa Monica Police Department to champion free speech and demand correction of the misdeeds of 5/31. My engagement with SM4D stems from a deep concern for our nation’s current state and the City of Santa Monica. We must strive toward racial justice and an end to white supremacy. The only way to do this is to exercise our First Amendment rights freely; when those are infringed upon, our fight for what is right is inherently impeded.” I was impressed with her message and with their movement. Let’s support SM4D! While we’re on the topic, why haven’t Breonna Taylor’s killers been arrested? Say her name!

Each week, I remind all of you to wear a face covering and save a life. Here are the latest Santa Monica pandemic statistics: 845 COVID-19 cases with 79 deaths. It’s your responsibility to help save lives.

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.