By Hector Gonzalez
March 13, 2015 -- A local residents’ group pushing for special zoning protections for the City’s Pico neighborhood plans to present a formal proposal to a steering committee meeting of the influential Santa Monicans for Renters Rights organization this weekend, officials said.
Pico Neighborhood Association board members say the creation of a Pico Neighborhood District could stem creeping “gentrification” changes already being seen in the area. Association officials also fear what they believe will be increased development pressures in the future with the arrival of the Expo rail line next year, said Association co-chair Maria Loya, a member of SMRR’s steering committee.
Those new pressures would ultimately have the result of pricing current Pico residents out of the rental market, Loya said.
The Association’s proposal comes as the City’s Planning Commission is working on a final draft of a comprehensive new zoning ordinance that will ultimately shape the nature and scope of development in Santa Monica for the next two decades.
SMRR’s steering committee Saturday will focus on the Commission’s proposed zoning ordinance, making it an appropriate venue at which to present the Association’s proposal, Loya said.
Historically, Loya said, Pico’s residential neighborhoods have had to endure “the constant encroachment of industrial, transportation and commercial uses” that are likely to spread even more when the light rail line opens early next year.
“When they put the freeway in the middle of the neighborhood a lot of families were displaced. We’re concerned that, without zoning protections, with the light rail coming we’ll see more families displaced,” said Loya. “We’ve seen what’s happened in the past and we know what’s coming.”
A new Pico Neighborhood District would serve several purposes, according to the proposal, including strengthening and sustaining the Pico neighborhood “as a cultural and ethnic residential neighborhood that maintains its identity as a diverse rich community in the middle of a thriving urban environment.”
It also would create uniform development standards for the neighborhood to “ensure that the scale and design of new or rehabilitated development is sensitive to the scale and massing of existing adjacent structures and with the surrounding neighborhood context.”
In addition, the proposed district would keep Pico as a mixed residential neighborhood of single family homes and apartments, and “protect the quality of life” of residents against increased traffic, noise, air pollution and other negative side-effects of encroaching development, among other goals.
Association co-chair Oscar de la Torre said the organization has already submitted the plan to the City’s Planning Commission for consideration.
Ideally, Loya said, Association officials want the Planning Commission to incorporate the Pico Neighborhood District plan into the overall zoning ordinance. But she added it might be too late now to do so.
“We’ve been told by City staff that we submitted this when the recommendations for the new zoning ordinance are coming to a conclusion. Our response is that zoning ordinances can be amended,” said Loya. “It needs to be considered, regardless.”
If the proposed new district can’t be incorporated in the new zoning ordinance, “then we need some interim zoning protections, considering the changes and the market pressures that will be heightened after the light rail comes in,” she said.
One rationale for placing light rail transportation near low-income neighborhoods is that low-income workers tend to use the systems as cheaper ways to get to work than cars.
But Loya said she and other Association members fear the next step will be the development of “transit-oriented” housing that won’t be affordable to Pico neighborhood residents.
“Research has concluded that with the development of new light rail stations, there are significant changes in demographic and economic characteristics within a one-half mile radius,” the proposal said, adding that rents tend to become more expensive.