Santa Monica’s Future: Will Developers or Residents Rule? – Part 4 Our residential neighborhoods

It’s the 4and of a 5-part article outlining the serious issues facing Santa Monica residents and the City Council.

the 1st article clearly marked where developers come first, then tourists and lastly residents! And the article goes into more detail about the commercial and residential buildings the developers were building will severely damage and unnecessarily alter our low-rise beach town!

the 2n/a article addressed the growing “canyonization” of our 8.3 square mile downtown (4% of Santa Monica’s total land area) and the pressing need to restore a pedestrian and resident friendly environment.

the 3rd article discussed the importance of our boulevards, the structural and visual fabric that unites our city and which represents 10% of the area of ​​our city. With the greatest potential for development, including 30% largely vacant properties and a further 40% being single-storey buildings, he discussed the feasibility of turning our boulevards into promenades lined with 3 and 4-storey mixed-use courtyards. floors and terraced development.

This 4and article, in addition to discussing our zoning code, paints a picture of our multi-family and single-family neighborhoods that cover a large majority of our city and, like our downtown and boulevards, are changing rapidly and dramatically – change that may yet be changed, but not without a proactive city council, city administration and planning staff taking inspired and creative action!

American businesses and the housing industry have seen the benefits of increased housing demand and record rents as seen early with the rapid growth of the tech industry in the Bay Area and Tesla’s move to Nevada and Texas and possibly the increase in homelessness across the country. Whatever the reason, housing production is front and center and funded by US corporations and foreign investment. And Santa Monica’s response was a rapid transition from a history of courtyard housing to beach barracks stacked in blockhouses! And that stain on Santa Monica has spread to market-priced housing as well as affordable housing. The photos accurately express the shattered, faceless and fractured direction of our residential dwellings – whether facing streets or alleys – totally devoid of the greenery of a front yard setback, courtyard or Terrace ! This can’t be what $3,500-5,500 a month buys one! And unfortunately, these developers are hiring lawyers and architects from Santa Monica to do their bidding in the implementation of this disaster.

The Land of Lincoln Boulevard is an important part of Santa Monica’s history, but is quickly becoming Lincoln’s 6 and 8 story wall. And the “Gelsons” project in Lincoln and Ocean Park follows suit. This is Exhibit A on the future of our city – 521 apartments in ten 5- and 6-story buildings, an 880-car garage, and yards ranging from 20 to 40 feet wide flanked by buildings 55 to 65 feet high – many of these spaces are not much wider than the width of the lanes.

Although the “Gelsons” project is 90% market rate housing, it is much denser than most FHA projects and reminds me of packaged government projects in more heavily urbanized areas. I speak from experience having designed over 3,500 affordable FHA units in the western states. These 2, 3 and 4 story villages have always included significant and usable green spaces! And regarding the lack of transparency in the administrative approval process which was carried out without any limits, if anyone in our planning department was responsible, they should be terminated immediately. And anyone on council involved in approving staff recommendations that allowed for such zoning and densification should be dismissed at the first opportunity.

We need to rethink our approach to affordable housing! Years ago a deal was made with the devil to provide 20-30% affordable housing in projects at market rate in exchange for increased height and density. But in this marriage, we were certainly cheated by developers, only achieving 8-10% affordable units instead of 20-30%, while units at 90% market were paying significantly higher rents to cover increasing land and building costs and funding, adding to our citywide gentrification problem. This totally failed marriage with development partners eager for more height and density could have been avoided. The city could simply have used a percentage of its large land holdings to well created affordable housing on public property and including significant green space – saving +/- 35% of total project cost with zero land cost, reduced construction financing and property tax savings! And these affordable housing and workforce communities could also include preschools, as a local resident recently suggested to me. This would have reduced gentrification, in-council conflict, etc., etc., and even enabled the potential transition to ownership on a 20-year mortgage depreciation – adding value to tenants rather than developers! Shame on the promoters and our city for allowing this to continue for so long!

But should we allow the growth that state law, under the influence of big dollars, now demands, and if so, can we still maintain our garden city? The LA Times headline for December 20, 2021 reads: “California’s population continues to decline.” If so, why do we need to build 8,800 homes. especially when there are around 4,700 vacant homes? And there has been no appreciable population increase – only 4,000 in the past 60 years! Could the housing crisis be an affordability crisis and not a supply problem? The housing element of the state must not be used to manipulate the planning and future of our city!!

And what about a zoning code that allows oversized, faceless, characterless prison blocks. Buildings should be less “copy and paste” and more original. We must abandon our current path of exchanging environmental quality for buildings on steroids with little or no free space! And we need planning decisions based on principles, not vested interests. And there was no need for recent zoning to meet state-dictated growth numbers as our zoning easily accommodated on underdeveloped properties 4 times the 8,800 units required. Upzoning with a % of inclusive housing is not the solution. We cannot continue to destroy our environment.

So the question remains: will Santa Monica be a dense city in the shadow of downtown Los Angeles or a low-rise city with a laid-back beachfront and garden setting? We need code that demands courtyards and sunlight instead of hallways and shade, code that is imbued with meaningful design requirements and encourages low to mid-rise development using advantages tax and treatment. Let’s turn our zoning code from a negative to a positive. We need to rid the code of the DAs (Development Agreements) that developers frequently use to take advantage of our city. However, Gelson’s project is an “as of right” endorsement resulting from code staff/council gerrymandering, and seriously aided by developer-backed politicians in Sacramento. And in the process of revising our code, let’s educate the mayor and council on design and planning issues, and give serious consideration to planning staff and the superintendent!

Instead of canyoning our city, we can still be a low rise city with a relaxed seaside and garden environment and accommodate any growth that is our reality, so stay tuned for article 5 the next week – outlining a roadmap for achieving and sustaining these goals. Thanks for listening!

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 ), Michael Jolly, AIR CRE. For previous articles, see

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