Room to Breathe!

Three days ago, your City Council gave away your land in the center of downtown for 30 pieces of silver. The giveaway did not produce any cash; instead, your city council proposed to give an out of town developer 2.5 acres of the people’s land at 5th and Arizona. This land is worth at least $62 million in today’s dollars, and the lease is for the next 99 years. We receive nothing, zip, zero, nadaImagine what the parcel will be worth 99 years from now! For that very tidy easy to count sum of zero dollars, Santa Monica receives:

• 11 stories of hotel, offices, and retail space, which we won’t need

in the depressed post-COVID-19 world.  In fact, flooding the market with so much un-needed commercial space will be detrimental to our existing office and hotel operators.

• A very expensive 130′ skyscraper that is nothing but a warmed-over, scaled down, Jenga block, copycat version of the OMA designed building circa 2013 in Singapore (see picture above). It is not a unique architectural statement. It is outdated, not attractive, nor fitting in our adjacent seaside environment.

• 3 years of downtown construction chaos followed by years of traffic


• Zero, I repeat zero, ground lease income.

• No community space: the developer removed the initially planned 12,000 square foot facility.

• Not a sustainable building (not net-zero), and it shades its neighbors’ buildings hundreds of feet away. Adjacent buildings will not be able to generate their own solar power.

• This building will be entangled in litigation for years as the

developer evaded the State Surplus Land Act with the presumed cooperation of Santa Monica’s economic development and planning departments.

• The developer will give $24 million for affordable housing offsite rather than build the 48 units proposed initially within the project’s boundary.

~ The proposal’s fundamental problem is that it completely fails to meet the needed open space pressures facing downtown Santa Monica. In just the last five years, developers have already approved, have under construction, or have completed 1400 housing units and hotel rooms within a short walking distance of the site (Ocean to California to Lincoln to Colorado). A two-thousand-five-hundred person jump in the downtown population is coming. If these new residents were to have the same pitiful open space ratio as the rest of our town (1.52 acres per 1000 residents), it should realistically include at least 3.63 acres of public park space. The current site is only 2.57 acres, while the proposed “allegedly” publicly accessible open space (1/3 of it perched on the upper edges of the high-rise) is less than one acre. This public space is just a quarter of what is needed to absorb the last five years of runaway expansion downtown, not to mention the upcoming Vons, Gehry, and Miramar developments.

This project, if pursued, will be massively deficient and obsolete from an open space point of view, the moment it is completed. 

We can do much better than this. This piece of land should become Santa Monica’s “Central Park.” It is now the center of our downtown as “gravity” has shifted eastward from the Third Street Promenade with the tug of the development towards Lincoln Blvd. The parks adjacent to our downtown core, Reed, Palisades, and Tongva, are poorly located for downtown’s future growth.

~ In the last six months, we have learned that the ability of a City to shelter in place depends on the residents’ patience and periodic access to adjacent outdoor “safety valves,” which enhance their tolerance of social distancing. Without those breathing spaces, the citizens’ patience quickly collapses, and the health “rebels” start acting out. Our city will endure periodic virus outbreaks in the upcoming decades, so we need the space and capacity to experience extended periodic shutdowns. An urban park in the densest part of Santa Monica is not just a luxury. It is essential to our residents’ very survival.

Starting in 2007, our City Council wisely pieced together this unique vital parcel downtown, and their foresight should not be squandered by trying to recreate a building from the past. The world has changed completely. We should take this opportunity to pivot away from this bad deal and prepare our downtown for a better future. The public process of choreographing our newest park should be an exciting time for our fatigued and bereaved residents. We need that uplift now, and we will benefit from it in perpetuity. Santa Monica residents need to rise and undo this horrible mistake. Our stakeholders, the residents of Santa Monica, rose against the ill-fated Hines Project on Olympic Blvd. Citizen-led action can stop this project, as well.

~ In 1906, Brothers Leo and Mo Fogel migrated to Santa Monica and settled on one of the city’s premier streets. Leo became the young city’s pre-eminent dentist while Mo became a noted attorney. Leo settled his family in a Victorian house at 1248 5th Street, where daughter Leila grew up. Leila’s mother was one of the founders of the Santa Monica Breakfast Club in 1935. The club has a singular focus, helping local children in need of dental care. Leila lives a vibrant life. She has served our youth both as a classroom teacher and as an active leader in the Breakfast Club. Leila is upset over the state of our Santa Monica. She gave me an earful about the city she loves. Her parents are “rolling over in their graves at Woodlawn” to see the city the way it is now.

“Whatever the hell City Hall is doing” is ruining Santa Monica.

“They just keep building and building.”

“There’s a difference between growth to enhance and modernize the city and growth just for developers that destroy the community.”

“We no longer have any sense of community, and we have lost our sense of being a seaside town.”

Leila Fogel Brown speaks the truth!

Oh, that Victorian on 5th Street? It bit the dust in 1937, and it made way for the landmarked Santa Monica Post Office.

~ John Cyrus Smith is a Santa Monica Recreation & Parks Commissioner and former chair of that commission. He was a council candidate in 2012. Here is his view: 

“I won’t be voting for any council members who voted to move ahead with the developer on the 4th, 5th, and Arizona project. You should not, either.

The bad decisions are starting to add up.

  • That expensive City Hall Annex behind City Hall that we REALLY don’t need now…
  • A Taj Mahal “Lab School” at the Civic Center is a glorified Day Care for highly paid City, SMC, and Rand Employees, many of whom don’t even live here…
  • Ten big, new apartment buildings either built or planned along Lincoln north of the Santa Monica Freeway. Good luck driving anywhere near there.
  • Tongva and Reed Parks over-run by homelessness, despite the pleas from Rec and Parks Commissioners who can only watch while the council directs police and city staff to double down on programs that perpetuate the problem.
  • And we all had to sit back and watch our city get trashed by looters while our police got out-smarted.
  • And now yet another huge hotel planned on public land bought with public money for public uses. By a Council that claims to care about affordable housing. How many hotel workers who were paid to call into the meeting on Tuesday night will ever check into that hotel? How many residents? Councilmember Sue Himmelrich got it right Tuesday night. No one else.”

~ We’re used to wearing a seatbelt, stopping at red lights, and wearing clothes in public. It’s just not that hard to add a face covering over your nose and mouth. It’s our new fashion trend. Help revive our economy and our lives.  Wear a mask, save a life. 

~ In 2013, Planning Commissioner Mario Fonda-Bonardi joined a new group of concerned Santa Monicans whose specialties were in architecture or engineering. They wanted to improve planning and sustainability. Soon I received a call asking me to come along for the ride. I was the Chair of the Recreation and Parks Commission at the time, and they thought I could give perspective on open space and parks. SMart came to be, and we have “talked the talk” for the past seven years. Mario and I have decided that it is time to “walk the walk” and have submitted our names for two of the available City Council seats in the upcoming election on November 3rd. As such, our SMart colleagues will carry on each week writing about the city we love, but the names Mario Fonda-Bonardi and Phil Brock will be missing from the masthead. We will see all of you down the road!

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.