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Concrete Ideas Presented at Industrial Lands Workshop

By Anita Varghese
Staff Writer

July 23 -- Santa Monica residents, developers and business owners began hammering out a vision for the city’s “Industrial Lands” that attempted to balance jobs, housing, transportation and open space during a workshop Saturday.

With more than 1,000 small residential units in the planning pipeline and the prospect of a light rail line on the way, participants at the five-hour workshop hosted by the City’s Planning Division were given a chance to weigh in on the future of one of the last areas in Santa Monica slated for development.

“When we look at the Industrial Lands, it is a significant part of the city,” said Eileen Fogarty, Santa Monica’s director of Planning and Community Development. “We are looking at an area more than 400 acres that is a major economic engine and employment center.”

In addition to the post office distribution center, the Big Blue Bus maintenance and repair yards and businesses that serve the city’s auto industry, the Industrial Lands include some of Santa Monica’s largest businesses outside of the hospitality and tourism industries, planning officials said.

The area’s light manufacturing and studio district includes major media and Internet corporations and is home to the Yahoo! Center, Sony Music and the Lantana complex of office buildings that houses production and post-production companies.

The Industrial Lands also includes many of Santa Monica’s 1,700 small businesses in the creative arts industries, including the 18th Street Arts Center and Bergamot Station, a complex of art galleries near the City Yards.

The Exposition Light Rail Line slated to travel through the Industrial Lands will likely be a major catalyst in transforming the area.

Scheduled to be completed by 2015, the light rail line proposal features two stations within the city limits -- one at Bergamot Station, the other Downtown. Planning Division staff is discussing the possibility of adding a third station at 14th Street, 17th Street or 20th Street.

City officials have pumped $35 million in the hopes their beachside city will be the final stop for the line, which has yet to be funded.

Developers also are pumping millions of dollars into the area. In the past 12 months, the City has received applications for more than 1,000 residential units, most of them for single room occupancy units that qualify as affordable, although they are expected to fetch more than $1,000 a month in rents.

“The issue here for the community is that amount of residential housing is not the primary purpose of the Industrial Lands,” Fogarty said. “The area does not have the basic infrastructure for housing.”

The area, planning officials said, lacks the roads, sidewalks, parks and open space to support housing. It also lacks services, such as banks, public schools or any commonly used retail stores.

William Whitney, a real estate advisor and principal at Whitney & Whitney Incorporated, noted that there is a population boom in the region driving the need for more housing.

“The reality is that, no matter what we do, the anticipated population growth in the Southern California region is six million residents,” Whitney said.“Where are they going to live?

“Los Angeles, which is supposedly the grandfather of sprawl, is going to be one of the first regions in the United States to run out of land.”

Proactive planning should take into account community values and the various types of uses for industrial areas, said Dena Belzer, founder and president of Strategic Economics, an urban economics and planning firm.

Belzer asked Santa Monica residents to consider if land is worth more for industrial use or for housing.

“We talk about this tension between jobs and housing,” she said. “A healthy economy is fundamental to a community’s well being.

“Without a vital, growing economy, we won’t have opportunities for residents to create the kind of wealth that will allow them to buy houses, and we won’t have the revenue generation to sustain the businesses residents need to obtain services.”

Economic diversity, employment equity and social justice are also vital to a community’s well being, Belzer said.

Transportation and land use are inseparable, said Jeffrey Tumlin, a “multimodal” transportation planner and principal at Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates.

“Transportation is not an end of itself,” Tumlin said. “It serves no good just having people go around in circles.

“Transportation is a key support activity for economic development goals, quality of life and sustainable ecology.”

Accessibility and mobility are important in the Industrial Lands, he said.

People, jobs, schools, parks, recreation sites and shops should be located to make it easy to get there by private vehicle, public transportation, bicycle or walking. Drive times should be short, and parking accessible.

But the Industrial Lands poses special challenges. The grid pattern of streets is more spread out than in other parts of Santa Monica, and traffic jams during peak work hours are prevalent on Lincoln Boulevard, 20th Street, Cloverfield Boulevard and Olympic Boulevard, planning officials noted.

“It is much harder to make connections from street to street and make turns,” Fogarty said. “Everyone is forced into a handful of primary streets.”

After general presentations, participants who met in small groups seemed to agree on a vision for the Industrial Lands that included affordable workforce housing, sustainable transportation, public parks and landscaping and a thriving arts and entertainment sector.

The City could provide incentives for developers to build low-income or middle-income workforce housing for employees of a wide variety of businesses in the M1 and LMSD zones, they concluded.

Santa Monica residents and small business owners cautioned that artists and post-production entertainment professionals cannot afford new housing in the Industrial Lands if those units are sold at market rates.

A second Industrial Lands workshop is planned for a later date. These workshops are part of the Shape the Future 2025 and Motion by the Ocean series to gather public input to update the City’s Land Use and Circulation Elements (LUCE) document.

 

“We are looking at an area more than 400 acres that is a major economic engine and employment center.” Eileen Fogarty

 

“Los Angeles, which is supposedly the grandfather of sprawl, is going to be one of the first regions in the United States to run out of land.” William Whitney

 

“Transportation is not an end of itself. It serves no good just having people go around in circles." Jeffrey Tumlin

 

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