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Santa Monica Proposing Balanced Approach With Downtown Plan

After residents soundly defeated the anti-growth Measure LV in November, city officials are still trying to propose a plan that addresses the traffic and livability concerns that led to the initiative being placed on the ballot.
May 29, 2017, 7am PDT | rzelen | @rzelen
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Joseph Sohm

In contrast to the city of Los Angeles, with its out-of-date plans and inertia against planning, the city of Santa Monica has recently released a draft of the city’s Downtown Community Plan. As Santa Monica continues to provide the region with a blueprint for civic leadership, their municipal leaders are seeking to ensure the city’s special quality of life continues.

In an exclusive interview with The Planning Report, Santa Monica City Manager Rick Cole and Director of Planning and Community Development David Martin sat down to discuss the recently released draft of the city’s Downtown Community Plan. The plan seeks to find compromises that allow the city to increase housing supply, while respecting the livability and traffic considerations that led citizens to place Measure LV on the November ballot.

Santa Monica has long been a city where planning has been prioritized and funded. After soundly beating the anti-growth Measure LV in November, Santa Monica advocates for more housing were excited at the potential for more density along the Expo Line corridor. However, many of these advocates were disappointed with the modest proposal of housing for the Downtown Community Plan.

The city manager, Rick Cole, responded to critics of the plan by explaining that there is no way to build enough housing in a worldwide destination like Santa Monica to bring down the high costs of living in the seaside enclave.  Cole reinforces that Santa Monica is “committed to doing our share, but bringing down the price of housing to be more affordable to young people and working families will require a region-wide commitment." Right now, he notes “I don’t see the regional political will for that.”

Cole noted the benefits of planning spread far beyond individual projects and streets: they impact the fiscal health of a city. As Cole notes, “Real planning is a good investment. Our AAA bond rating, our stable government, and our measures of community wellbeing all point to the value of doing real planning with the community.” The prioritization of public and civic space were evident throughout the plan.

Martin spoke of finding solutions to incorporate elegant density along the Expo Line corridor. The popular Downtown Los Angeles to Downtown Santa Monica rail line has exceeded ridership expectations, and thus pushed Santa Monica to allow heights of 84 feet and suggest a process for consideration of additional height of up to 130’ on three established large sites near the rail line. The redevelopment of approximately 20 percent of downtown parcels, as assumed in the plan, would result in around 2,500 new residential units.

The plan will go to the Santa Monica City Council sometime in July. 

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Published on Wednesday, May 17, 2017 in The Planning Report
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