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Changing Pico Boulevard Zoning to Neighborhood Commercial Will Preserve Area's Character

By Oscar de la Torre

The City of Santa Monica’s Pico Wellbeing Project is paving the way for zoning rules that will change the character and scale of the Pico Neighborhood, while accelerating the gentrification and displacement of low-income residents from our community.

This is ironic considering that the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA) worked to address the growing land speculation and gentrification that was rapidly changing the character of our neighborhood by advocating to create the Pico Neighborhood Zoning District (PNZD), modeled after the existing Ocean Park Zoning District.

In June 2015, the Council voted unanimously to approve the “concept” of the PNZD. The purpose of the PNZD was to create protections to preserve the character of the neighborhood and create disincentives for land speculation that was resulting in resident displacement.

Unlike the Ocean Park Association, which got its zoning district approved within months, the City of Santa Monica is using the Pico Well-being Project to engage in a disingenuous and deceptive process that works to manufacture support to green light the destruction of our neighborhood character and scale.

It is important to note that the City of Santa Monica’s Pico Wellbeing Project has done NOTHING to protect the character and scale of our neighborhood let alone promote any sort of well-being for residents of the Pico Neighborhood.

More than three years ago, the PNA submitted a set of zoning recommendations that would work to protect our character and scale. One of our recommendations is to change the zoning designation of Pico Boulevard from Mixed-Use Boulevard Low (MUBL) to Neighborhood Commercial (NC).

Currently Pico Boulevard has two zoning designations. On the south side of Pico Boulevard, the zoning designation is Neighborhood Commercial. On the north side of Pico, it’s zoned MUBL.

Why the difference? Could it be that on the north side of Pico Boulevard you find the Pico Neighborhood, an area that has historically been used as a dumping ground by the City of Santa Monica’s Planning Department and Council.

It should be no surprise that this type of behavior continues to be perpetuated by a rigged system that works to silence the resident voice.

That is why the PNA joined Maria Loya in the CVRA lawsuit against the City of Santa Monica to put to an end to this type of institutional discriminatory and racist system that has used the Pico Neighborhood as a dumping ground.

Now, it wants to use zoning protections that we fought for, as a pretext under the “Pico Wellbeing Project,” to sell our neighborhood to the highest bidder.

The Planning Commission will be considering zoning changes for Pico Boulevard as part of the Pico Neighborhood Zoning District that we fought for back in 2015.

The PNA is recommending that the current zoning designation be changed from Mix-Use Boulevard Low (MUBL) to Neighborhood Commercial (NC).

Neighborhood Commercial is intended to maintain and enhance small-scale neighborhood shopping districts that provide daily goods and services easily accessible from surrounding residential neighborhoods, while also serving a sub-regional role.

The MUBL zoning is intended to facilitate the transformation of sections of boulevards into vibrant, highly walkable areas.

The designation would pave the way for broad, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and local-serving uses with new buildings that step down in relationship to the scale and character of adjacent low density neighborhoods. Residential development for all income levels is the predominant use above the first floor.

Why does the City of Santa Monica want to maintain the MUBL zoning designation?

Because the designation gives a green light to build bigger and taller on Pico Boulevard. In fact, it allows for a minimum parcel size of 7,500 square feet and a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of 1.25 to 1.75 at Tier 3.

That compares with the Neighborhood Commercial zoning designation that allows for a minimum parcel size of 5,000 square feet and a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of 1.25 to 1.5 for Tier 2. Residents don’t want to see a canyon wall of buildings on the north side of Pico Boulevard, which is sure to happen if we allow MUBL zoning designation.

The area that is currently zoned MUBL includes the parcels from the bungalows next to the Starbucks at Stewart and Pico to the Whole Foods at Cloverfield and Pico. We’re sure that there are already plans underway for those parcels of land that will include market rate housing.

What is the impact of a MUBL zoning designation? Not only will it change the character of Pico Blvd. with bigger and taller buildings, it will also increase market pressures that result in higher rents for both residents and small business owners that lease space on Pico Boulevard.

In order to protect the character and scale of Pico Boulevard and our neighborhood, the PNA is recommending that the zoning designation be changed to Neighborhood Commercial (NC).

With NC zoning, it ensures that we maintain the current height limit, which is no more than 2 stories. That compares with a height of 36’ under Tier 2 (provision of community benefits) and no limit to stories and height in Tier 3 (with provision of community benefits and 100 percent residential above ground).

The zoning designation of MUBL will dramatically change the character and scale on Pico Boulevard, including possibly resulting in pushing out many of small businesses that we all love.

In order to protect the character of our neighborhood including the local and small businesses, the PNA is advocating for Neighborhood Commercial zoning designation.

However, what is being said by City staff and some Pico Neighborhood realtors, to convince residents and small businesses that their best option is MUBL, are lies.

They claim that Neighborhood Commercial will drive up the cost of rent and push out small businesses when actually it’s MUBL that will drive up the cost of rent.

Under MUBL zoning, landlords of apartments and commercial buildings will be incentivized to build-up and build-out in order to maximize their profit on rent and will therefore be pressured to push current tenants out.

It’s a deception that will lead to the destruction of our neighborhood as we know it.

Oscar de la Torre is a member of the School Board and heads the Pico Youth and Family Center (PYFC) and the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA)


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