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Four Years Later, Too Early to Determine LUCE's Effect on Santa Monica

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

February 19, 2015 -- Since the passage of the update to Santa Monica’s Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) portion of the General Plan in 2010, the city has seen construction of more than 1,000 residential units and in excess of 403,000 square feet of nonresidential development.

But the vast majority of that construction has nothing to do with the LUCE because it was approved prior to the implementation of the document.

So although a LUCE progress report was released this week in accordance with the document’s requirement, a determination of its effect on Santa Monica would be premature.

“Measurement of LUCE impact on core community indicators during the first four years of implementation is challenging,” Planning and Community Development Director David Martin wrote in the report to the City Council.

He continued, “This is because much of the recent development activity experienced over the past several years was approved prior to LUCE adoption and cannot be attributed to LUCE policy.”

The LUCE update was approved in the summer of 2010 after more than five years of hearings, workshops and debate. Its purpose was to set Santa Monica's land use and transportation policies for the next 20 years.

Of the 1,064 residential units that have been constructed and received certificates of occupancy since the LUCE’s implementation, only 80 were approved after the summer of 2010 and are regulated by the document.

The LUCE-regulated units include 33 in residential neighborhoods and 47 in the Downtown and Civic Center.

An additional 346 LUCE-regulated units are under construction, Martin wrote. And 435 LUCE-regulated units have been approved, but not yet received the building permits. 

Those projects are primarily located in the Downtown and Bergamot area, according to Martin.  

The more than 400,000 square feet of nonresidential construction since the LUCE’s adoption included nearly 200,000 square feet of hotel space, more than 180,000 square feet of office development, nearly 24,000 square feet of education space and 16,000 square feet of retail area.

An additional 12,000 square feet of nonresidential construction was designated institutional and 1,000 square feet was industrial space.

More than 110,000 square feet of nonresidential development has been approved and is under construction. An additional 360,356 square feet has been approved, but not yet received building permits.

The amount of nonresidential development is part of a downward trend that dates back more than a decade.

“Nonresidential development has diminished substantially over the years, even prior to LUCE adoption, as private property owners have shifted to the production of residential and mixed-use buildings,” Martin wrote.

He continued, “Averaging approximately 67,000 net new square feet per year since 2003, the production of nonresidential commercial space has been limited to several key sites around the city, and pending applications have shifted toward mixed-use, hotel and creative office and away from general commercial office.”

Other information featured in Martin’s report included that nearly half the “1,231 [residential] gross units” made available since 2010 are designated for moderate- and lower income residents.

Also, the per-capita acreage of open space increased by 5 percent from 1.13 to 1.19. This included more than seven acres through the opening of Tongva Park and Ken Genser Square.

Also noted was that 66 percent of residents live within a five-minute walk (quarter mile) of “goods and services.” Nearly the same amount of employees work within a five-minute walk of commercial businesses.

“A noticeable gap exists for employees in the Bergamot Area,” Martin wrote.

He added that 70 percent of commercial uses in Santa Monica are within a five-minute walk of areas with the highest population density (Wilmont, Mid-City East and Pico Neighborhood) and employment density (hospitals, Downtown and Santa Monica College).


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