OPEN LETTER FROM SMCLC AND ALL SANTA MONICA COMMUNITY GROUPS
TO: Planning Commission, City Council
Date: May 19, 2010
RE: Our community rejects the special interest proposals made by the
Harding Larmore firm to the Draft Land-Use and Circulation Element ("LUCE").
The Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City and all of the undersigned
community groups, strongly oppose the major changes to the LUCE proposed in the letter of May 5, 2010, from the Harding Larmore law firm to the Planning
Commission (and the related letters of May 12th and May 14th). While the
initial May 5 letter professes to support the "LUCE's vision and core
policies," it significantly undercuts or rewrites them, and seeks to reduce
residents' rights to a full, public process as well. Harding Larmore is
engaging in a blatant attempt to derail the core vision and policies of the
LUCE that were shaped over six years by now, at the last moment, rewriting
fundamental provisions to favor the firm's developer clients and to
overdevelop our City.
We urge you to reject this intense, last minute campaign to discredit the
LUCE. The Harding Larmore proposals urge: greater heights and densities
throughout our City; more commercial development as of right without
meaningful community public benefits and a public process; a great deal
more housing than the LUCE contemplates (again without requirements of
meaningful community public benefits and a public process); major zoning
changes to enable significant expansions for its hospital and auto
dealership clients (and even a new auto dealership row on Lincoln); and the
elimination of requirements for workforce housing for its institutional
For six long years, this community including residents, business owners,
developers and their consultants have been engaged in discussions with the
City to arrive at a consensus as to what our land use policies should be.
Throughout it all, Harding Larmore was there, lobbying for its development
clients at the multitude of workshops when the core principles were
established: protecting the neighborhoods and allowing less commercial
development, greater discretion over new development and a greater emphasis on requiring real community benefits.
No one, including residents, got all of their concerns resolved in the draft
LUCE. If anything, the LUCE needs to be stronger and stricter on limiting
development than it is now. Residents, especially those whose neighborhoods
are near Bergamot or the corridors where mixed-use activity centers are
proposed, remain legitimately concerned about the allowable heights, the
increased traffic and other undesirable environmental impacts of future
development there, particularly before public transit becomes a reality.
Incredibly, Harding Larmore now lobbies for even more height for Bergamot
and the mixed-use creative districts, and for even bigger projects with even
greater environmental impacts.
Another contentious issue for residents is the all too frequent use of
development agreements to build out the industrial lands area of our City
which is not eliminated by the draft LUCE. We believe that development
agreements should be used sparingly:
1) because our City's track record has been poor in negotiating them for
meaningful public benefits; 2) the promised public benefits have not been
provided or monitored for compliance in violation of state and local law; 3)
the real world traffic impacts were far greater than were projected or
understood at the time when several mega-commercial projects like the Water
Garden were approved; and 4) what little remaining undeveloped land exists
in our City in an area where traffic gridlock is pervasive, is the target
of at least 8 mega-development agreements, each one larger and out of scale
with its neighboring projects, and each having huge, irreversible negative
impacts on neighboring residents and the livability of our City as a whole.
Now, in its May 5th letter, Harding Larmore embraces the use of development
agreements to double the housing density in the draft LUCE.
These are all huge issues of public concern that will be hard fought as
these developers' mega-projects come before the Planning Commission and the Council.
But it is unacceptable at the end of this very long planning process to have
any lobbyist on behalf of any special interest group or subgroup propose
fundamental changes to the structure of the LUCE after all of the public
workshops have concluded. Allowing such changes would subvert the entire
public process and weaken the very protections that residents demanded in
that process in the form of greater neighborhood preservation, greater and
real community benefits and an open and transparent public process.
Residents, unlike developers, don't have paid lobbyists to protect their
interests. Instead, they must rely on a public process to raise their
concerns and hope to be heard. Now these same lobbyists are attempting to
reshape the LUCE without the same level of public awareness and involvement, by waiting until the process is almost over and residents (wrongly) believe the work has been done. It is manifestly unfair to give any deference to any of these proposals, all of which were, or should have been, part of the LUCE discussions when residents were at the table.
Does anyone doubt that the Harding Larmore proposals, taken separately,
would spawn a lot more development and a lot more traffic? And that all of
the environmental impacts would have to be determined and disclosed before
any of them could be adopted? Just the one proposal to double the housing
FARs would require a recirculation of an EIR (and probably changes to the
City's existing Housing Element, which must be consistent with the LUCE).
At a minimum, the changes proposed, even if they had residents' support
(which they surely do not), would necessitate at least another year or more
in workshops, followed by costly environmental and traffic studies before
finalizing a General Plan and implementing its zoning changes. It would be
unconscionable to allow another year to go by before the City finalizes
LUCE. To do so would allow the process to be hijacked by special interests
and to betray the entire public process -- a process in which residents were
asked to have faith over the last six years. It would also be highly
improper and contrary to the whole six-year process, to make any of the
proposed changes at the eleventh hour without significant community input.
For all the foregoing reasons, we expect the City to engage honestly with
its residents, who engaged in good faith in the LUCE process and who did so,
in part, to prevent powerful development interests from monopolizing the
discussion and imposing their narrow, special interests in the draft LUCE
just as they are now attempting to do.
For all of these reasons, we ask you to reject the Harding Larmore proposals
in their entirety, to adopt the draft LUCE now, and to enact the interim
zoning ordinances needed to conform to its provisions with alacrity.
The Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC)
Friends of Sunset Park Board of Directors (FOSP)
North of Montana Association Board of Directors (NOMA)
Mid-City Neighbors Executive Committee
Ocean Park Association Board of Directors (OPA)
Pico Neighborhood Association Board of Directors (PNA)
The Wilshire-Montana Neighborhood Coalition Board of Directors (WILMONT)
Cc: Ron Gould, City Manager
Eileen Fogarty, Planning Director
Maria Stewart, City Clerk