The future of Santa Monica: will developers or residents rule? – Part 3 Our boulevards

This is the third of five parts in an article detailing serious issues facing Santa Monica residents and the City Council.

The first article was a look into Santa Monica’s future and begged the question of who comes first – tourists, developers or residents? And will increasing height, density, and featureless block construction forever change our low-rise beach town?

The second article addressed the increasing “canyonization” of our downtown area and the need to revise our zoning plan to restore a pedestrian- and resident-friendly environment – and one that includes a large central plaza on vacant lots in the heart of our downtown area.

This third article looks at our boulevards and avenues that form the structural fabric, the decorative ribbons that connect our city to our inner city, an environment that we too are in danger of losing! Their importance in our city cannot be overstated. Our west-to-east boulevards and avenues include Montana, Wilshire, Santa Monica, Broadway, Colorado, Olympic, Pico, Ocean Park, Lincoln and Main Street, with a variety of residential, commercial and industrial uses. The 13.75 miles of these 10 thoroughfares, together with the commercial real estate on either side, is 2.5 times larger than the area of ​​our 0.35 square miles (226 acres) downtown. As this area accounts for more than 10% of the total size of our city, you can see the importance of these tree-lined asphalt streets and their facade features.

But what is the purpose and character of our boulevards? Our boulevards are not only the gateways to our city and the city’s largest public space, they also serve a variety of functions, from mobility and economic opportunities to open spaces and social connections. Boulevards also offer the most significant opportunities for housing and future commercial growth. These boulevards are the bridges that hold the community together and they are the key to our city’s future!

But buses and cars have softened the bucolic nature of the boulevards, placing an emphasis instead on directing traffic and allowing easy access for police, firefighters and ambulances. The recent President of the Chamber of Commerce described our boulevards as “long, lonely corridors and dangerous zones for pedestrians and bicycles”.

The greatest potential for development on our boulevards is the 30% (21,000 feet) of boulevard frontage (4 miles!) that is currently underdeveloped with a combination of small one-story buildings and surface parking lots.

Instead of rectangular box-type houses with uninspiring, continuous storefronts hugging narrow, 7- to 12-foot-wide sidewalks, we could instead turn our boulevards into landscaped parkways with small mixed-use commercial and residential villages on each block that are 2- and 3- floor terrace apartments above ground have floor commercial. With 70% of all boulevard facades currently made up of single storey buildings, the development of these mixed use villages could create over 8,400 units in addition to the 4,000+ existing units currently vacant! Instead of traffic and parked cars 10 feet away, the storefronts would overlook winding sidewalks and courtyards with landscaping, benches, fountains, and bike racks.

We need to reinvent our boulevards and develop policies that encourage creative development and open spaces that befit Santa Monica rather than economically inspired log home designs. Pedestrian experience is as important as vehicle movement. It is also interesting to note that Manhattan Beach has a 2 story height limit, Laguna Beach 3 and Santa Barbara 4! Why are we currently allowing 8 and 10 stories!!! And we need a parkway program and a creative zoning code that’s Santa Monica appropriate. Design is the difference between a good experience and a great one, igniting your emotions and making you come back again and again!

So how can we economically preserve and support our “garden city”? How do we bring quality to these half-block and full-block villages? And our city administration doesn’t have time to really focus when it’s being swamped with problem after problem at the same time. We need to create a commission that will work with planning to explore ways to encourage mixed-use zones, introduce quality into building design, and re-direct our boulevard environment.

With a significant majority of the buildings on the boulevards being single story, the increased economic incentive should allow for either buying out or merging multiple property owners within the block into a single development unit with the prospect of a 400-500% increase in net income, which would also Make up for 20-24 months of lost rental income during construction and leasing. And if the city offered property taxes and permit-processing incentives, a significant portion of the new units could offer below-market rents for needed workers’ housing.

But everything is piecemeal – development, decision making, jumping from one event to another, from one crisis to the next – an extremely costly way of running a city. Will continue to “canyonize” our downtown and our neighborhood boulevards will fill with log homes! Our mantra was economic gain at the expense of local residents and our environment. Will our advice continue to listen to tourists and developers before residents? I realize there are many urgent needs – from the homeless to broadband and so on, but growth for the sake of growth alone isn’t planning, it’s chaos! We cannot continue to be a divided house, a divided city!

What is our vision for Santa Monica – the future of our boulevards, our neighborhoods, our downtown? Will we continue to have a “piecemeal” future or a “planned” future, turning a negative into a positive? We can continue to be a low-rise city with character, instead of a block city with the staccato rhythm of jail cells! Let’s recalibrate the character of our boulevards and aim to do so within the next 12 months!

Ron Goldman FAIA
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-Life Safety Commission, Samuel Tolkin Architect, Mario Fonda-Bonardi, AIA, Planning Commissioner, Marc Verville, CPA (inactive ). For previous articles see

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