A New Year’s Glimpse At The Future Of Santa Monica: Will Developers Or Residents Rule?

It’s a new year, a crucial year for Santa Monica !! How interested are you in your city and its beach surroundings? That future includes the Development industry that now rules our legislature, the governor, and our local Santa Monica administration – including our planning staff, planning committee, architecture review board, and developmental members on our city council! This article is the first in a five-part series that outlines the future of Santa Monica – a future dominated by our ever-expanding corporate economy and its developing industries.

In the developer’s world there are only dollars and cents (but not the resident sense!). But the planning and construction of a city is much more than the sum of individual buildings or the zoning of industries and workers. It is one of coexistence and true humanity. Density and mass are not synonymous with quality of life, so why do we allow a handful of builders and their architects to ruin the city we live in and love?

Will Santa Monica continue to attract tourists, young and old, as Florence, Venice, Istanbul or Ankara have for 500 years? No, not even for 50 years! These cities live on with their cascading roofs and cultural spirit. Is it too late to save our inner city, turn our boulevards into parks or save our courtyard apartments surrounded by countryside? Let’s say “NO” together! What environment will we leave behind for our grandchildren?

Both the California population (LA Times, December 20, 2021 – “California’s population continues to decline”) and Santa Monica’s population have declined. Still, the city council without objection let the state and the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) dictate the construction of 8,900 additional units, representing a 20% increase in Santa Monica’s population over the next eight years! And this mandate offered our urban planning staff and our city council the excuse to include a considerable amount and density in our zoning – both are unnecessary even with this necessary increase in density! These actions will quickly track down the loss of our 2-, 3- and 4-story beach character and our surroundings!

The headlines of the LA Times newspaper last month described the onset of a tsunami:

  • “NYC Developer Buys Eight Properties in Downtown Santa Monica”
  • “WLA development will bring 455 units to the Expo Bundy area”

There is also the 8 story building with 100 units under construction in Colorado and Lincoln.

And the adjoining renovation of 280 units on 5 and 7 floors with parking spaces for 354 cars – and possibly increased to 8 floors!

And then there’s the huge Gelson project on Lincoln and Ocean Park Blvd. with 521 units on 5 floors with an underground car park with 880 parking spaces – and which do not even have to be checked by the building commission or the tourist office? !! And water??

Urban development is a spatial plan that includes the balance between social and economic, cultural and institutional, recreational, environmental and infrastructure aspects. But how do you live, work and play in a beach town surrounded by a densely populated urban area? The construction of a city is not just a development plan with individual buildings or a division of labor and specialization. And it is certainly far more than our current narrow sidewalks that lead to a series of intersections. There are broad approaches to the built environment – monumental & impersonal or human? static or shaped? single or secluded? flat or structured? There should be a change of pace through a sequence of rooms and a large number of buildings. Will Santa Monica’s future be monotonous and inhuman, or can we protect the efficiency of our city along with its humanity? Just like a sculptor uses a chisel, we need to use our vision and creativity to translate these abstract concepts into tangible forms.

We quickly lose the spirit of our city – we can win, we are on our way to another place. But we don’t have to be the same “one size fits all” architecture as everywhere – we have to preserve our local taste and spirit! Think Santa Barbara’s enduring flat seaside character, its population is the same as Santa Monica but its planning and legal department is half as many as we are!

Then why did our city council allow a handful of developers to ruin the city we live in and love? With the three new council members we expect a stronger focus on residents, but a lot of damage has already been done and may be difficult to undo. When the world’s water is approaching a crisis – be it the melting of Antarctica, the rise in sea levels, agriculture and wildlife turning into tinder and fire – why are we not just allowing more density and development, but promoting them? ? We have become a ship without a rudder!

It’s a new year and the residents come first – not the developers. We need a city staff, a planning committee, an architecture review committee and a city council that understand this – and if not, they have to go! But there is hope and confidence that our new city manager, along with the minority of future-oriented councilors, has the ability and courage to steer council and staff in a positive direction.

The following four articles illustrate the mystery of our inner city, our boulevards and our living environment. Next week’s article will explore our downtown area as a visual and energetic experience that appeals to residents and visitors alike. For the following week, we’ll explore our boulevards and avenues as landscaped parks that will benefit residents as well as cars and developers. The 4th article describes our residential development in a quiet landscape. And the final article in this series will outline the steps we must take as our situation has become a confrontation with death or death. Apart from the fact that our city administration is overwhelmed, it has little or no imagination. We have a split city council, planning team and architectural review body with little imagination. Unfortunately, this is more than a New Year’s speech, it really is a crucial situation that we find ourselves in. It is time for residents and their neighborhood councils to get involved, get involved, and take back their city. It’s now or never Santa Monica – are we up to it ?!

Happy New Year and good luck Santa Monica!

Ron Goldman
Fellow, American Institute of Architects

for SMa.rt (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow)

Thane Roberts, Architect, Robert H. Taylor AIA, Ron Goldman FAIA, Architect, Dan Jansenson, Architect, Building and Fire Safety Commission, Samuel Tolkin Architect, Mario Fonda-Bonardi, AIA, Planning Commissioner,

Marc Verville MBA, CPA (inactive), Michael Jolly, AIR-CRE.

For previous articles see www.santamonicaarch.wordpress.com/writing

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