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Group Seeks More Development for Downtown Santa Monica  

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By Jorge Casuso

May 12, 2017 -- A proposed plan to guide development for Downtown sets too many restrictions for developers and is a "woefully inadequate response" to climate change and the need for affordable housing, according to a local group advocating transit-oriented growth.

Santa Monica Forward, which is spearheaded by the city's political and civic establishment, said the proposed Downtown Community Plan (DCP) is "aggressively slow-growth" and relies on "outmoded planning principles."

"As proposed, the plan places too much emphasis on physical planning and restricting physical development and barely any emphasis on the impact it has on social, economic, equity, or sustainability planning objectives," Forward wrote.

"The plan severely restricts our ability to grow responsibly and to respond with flexibility to both foreseeable and unforeseen needs and challenges that may arise over the next 15 years."

Released last month, the DCP would limit downtown development to buildings of four to five stories, but would allow high-rises on select sites, including the land around the new Downtown light rail station ("Santa Monica Downtown Plan Seeks to Strike a Compromise, Officials Say, But Some Remain Skeptical," April 13, 2017).

According to Forward, most of the height restrictions proposed by the plan should be increased and the process for approval expedited by eliminating the need for Development Agreements (DA) for all but three projects.

"The DCP's proposed design standards, restrictive building envelopes, and dramatically increased fees on new construction actively discourage much-needed, transit-adjacent affordable housing," the group wrote.

"The plan is also overly reliant on extraction of fees, rather than offering incentives, to create the amenities our downtown will need to continue to grow as a neighborhood."

Among the group's recommendations are the following:

* Increase the 84-foot height limit for housing projects on transit adjacent sites to 90-feet and density to 100,000 square feet without requiring a DA;

* Increase heights in the “Neighborhood Village” zone from 60 feet to 84 feet without a DA, and

* Restrict DAs to three large sites that allow heights of 130 feet but scrap the proposed requirement for a "super-majority" of the City Council (at least five members) or a vote by the public.

In its current form, Forward said, "the plan appears to merge a particular read of the current local political tea leaves with outmoded planning principles."

Last November, Forward helped lead the opposition to Measure LV, which was bankrolled with more than $1.2 million in donations largely from developers ("More Than $1.2 Million Spent to Defeat Santa Monica’s LUVE Measure," February 6, 2017).

Residocracy, the activist group that proposed LUVE, spent a little more than $73,000 on its campaign, which lost by 55 to 45 percent of the vote.

Slow-growth advocates contend that the proposed plan is weighted too heavily in favor of developers and will lead to "runaway" building and traffic. ("Santa Monica Watchdog Group Warns New Plan Primes Downtown for 'Runaway' Building and Traffic," April 19, 2017).

Among their recommendations is to reject a proposed mixed-use hotel development on one of the three large sites, which is on City owned land, and build a public park.

Forward opposes that recommendation, saying open spaces Downtown "need to be alive with activity, programmed, and inviting to people and therefore need to be integrated with buildings and their uses."

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