May 13, 2015

SMCLC Update on Zoning Ordinance and Next Steps

Dear SMCLC supporter,

A pro-resident council is one that hears its residents, responds meaningfully to their concerns and acts as stewards to protect our city's essential character. For years a pro-developer majority has left us with punishing traffic that makes our daily lives difficult and undermines our city's sustainability.

During the last two election cycles, SMCLC and others worked hard to elect a pro-resident majority.

Elections and community engagement matter. And last week, we witnessed that when the new council majority removed key overdevelopment language in the Zoning Ordinance Update (ZOU) and in the general plan called LUCE. Many of the votes were 4 to 3, with bitter opposition from the pro-developer minority.

By a 4/3 vote, Kevin McKeown, Tony Vazquez, Ted Winterer and Sue Himmelrich stripped the LUCE of Tier 3 development rights that otherwise would have allowed new projects on our major boulevards to be higher and denser than what exists now.

Our council majority also removed from the LUCE the higher and denser so-called "activity centers" which would have resulted in commercial and residential "villages" popping up wholly out of the scale and character to the current neighborhoods that abut Wilshire Blvd.

The council majority also returned over 100 lots citywide to their appropriate "residential" designation. These vacant lots have long served as crucial buffers between commercial sites adjacent to residential neighborhoods (but had been rezoned as commercial "A-lots" in the LUCE without public input). This means that these buffer lots cannot be used to build bigger commercial developments in our neighborhoods.

In addition to removing overdevelopment maximums in the LUCE, the Council majority refused to greenlight other developer-friendly amendments such as allowing a third story along Montana Avenue and Main Street. (Your neighborhood associations actively championed these and other zoning revisions, slogging through multiple zoning ordinance drafts and over three dozen meetings).

In doing these things, the new pro-resident council majority signaled a fundamental shift in our land-use priorities away from demolition for maximum site development to sustainable, adaptive reuse of existing buildings in our already built-out city. The greenest buildings are the buildings not torn down.

This council has shown it will pro-actively amend LUCE to downsize development to more reasonable levels. We also believe that the new zoning ordinance is better than the old one that favored massive commercial projects like the Water Garden, Colorado Place and higher heights and densities (due to lesser setback requirements) along many of our key streets.

We didn't get everything we wanted. For example, because of changes made at the staff level (apparently, unbeknownst to Council) developers will be able to build some new commercial projects with "unbundled" parking. ("Unbundled" parking results in not building enough spaces for the number of cars a new project will generate). Unbundled parking is a gift to developers in the guise of innovation; if people don't have parking, supposedly they won't drive cars. We believe this "magical thinking" will only exacerbate our city's current traffic and parking problems. We intend to revisit this issue later this year when a parking study is before the Council.

Next up: The Downtown Specific Plan (not covered in this zoning update process). When this plan and its environmental impacts come up for discussion, we will have the opportunity to rein in the so-called "opportunity sites," such as the three, massive proposed tower hotel/condo projects on Ocean Avenue that are out of scale and code, and the highly controversial 4th and Arizona project on public land. To do this, the Council will need to enact further LUCE amendments, along with lowering heights and densities in the downtown.

SMCLC believes that future large projects must be subject to a resident vote – that's what Proposition T required in 2008 and over 18,000 voters supported SMCLC's measure to require that.

Residents throughout our community have powerfully shown that we will do what it takes to protect our city so that it continues to be the Santa Monica we love. We've also shown that having the right city council is of paramount importance. With that in mind, we look forward to 2016 when we will elect even more councilmembers who will listen to residents.

Thank you for your support.

Victor, Diana, Sherrill and Jeff