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Final Battle Over Plan for Downtown Santa Monica Begins  

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

May 17, 2017 -- A sweeping plan to add up to 3.2 million square feet in new development to Santa Monica's downtown heads into the final stage of a bitter longstanding battle tonight.

Almost seven years in the making, the Downtown Community Plan (DCP) goes before the City Planning Commission as a final draft in a 6 p.m. meeting in City Hall, the first of three new public sessions it has scheduled.

Another is on Thursday and the third is May 31. Same location (City Council chambers) and same start time. All end at 11:30 p.m.

Several more forums, workshops, a focus group and other public sessions are anticipated before the council votes in June or July, although some are yet to be specifically scheduled.

The DCP and coming public sessions are available at

At the heart of the fight is how downtown will develop in the future –- or whether it is wise to keep developing at all.

Leaders of the local slow growth movement argue that downtown is, after all, built out, and it is time to either stop building or radically pull the reins.

“The DCP never answers ‘why’ so much more rapid development” is needed, Diana Gordon of the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City wrote in an analysis that mostly excoriated the plan.

“Santa Monica is already so built out,” she said. “We are not a big city, and our downtown is relatively small.”

But nearly all the city’s leaders and their allies in the political establishment are in synch with the DCP, acknowledging it will add density and height (although recently scaled back) but also a new element of excitement.

It would also mark a major foray into creating neighborhoods and housing in the core of Santa Monica, a crucial attempt to address the city’s housing crunch, although (as critics note) most will be at market-rate rents, leaving the even more severe lack of affordable housing unresolved, critics say.

In all, the DCP would add another 2,500 units downtown.

For City officials, the plan is an inspiring model for an anti-sprawl era. It focuses development close to the city’s Expo Light Rail line downtown, which debuted May 20 of last year.

They promise new building will not cause “new net” traffic on streets already car-clogged at evening peaks hours.

But Metro’s trains are the lynchpin. They are an anchor for the City’s hope for a “multimodal” future in which today’s automobiles used by commuters are mostly ditched for green and healthier alternatives, like light-rail trains for commuters, city buses, walking and bicycling.

“We knew Expo would be a game-changer,” City Manager Rick Cole -- a champion of multimodality -- told readers in his City blog, The Long View, shortly after Expo debuted.

But critics are skeptical. Fed up with traffic and worried that the last of Santa Monica’s beach town charm is slipping away, slow-growth leaders are asking for a sprawling urban park instead of new building downtown.

High on their radar is an anticipated redevelopment of the aged Miramar Hotel. The 568,940-square-foot project was pulled for redesign in 2013 and has yet to publicly re-surface.

Along with the Miramar, two other projects close by comprise more than 1.2 million square feet of all new building for downtown.

The “Plaza at Santa Monica,” on 3.2 acres of City-owned property at 4th/5th and Arizona, would reach 12 stories, while another highrise hotel mixed used project on Ocean Avenue would add 338,669 square feet.

Dramatic changes also are planned for jammed Lincoln Boulevard, which is mostly lined by older, low-slung stores with attached parking.

Now considered part of downtown, Lincoln would become home to multi-family housing and such amenities like broader, safer sidewalks, “traffic calming” features and more landscaping and trees.

Lincoln Boulevard could become the site of up to two dozen mixed-use projects generally featuring five-story apartment complexes with small businesses at ground level. The proposed projects would add some 900,000 square.

A last-minute attack on the DCP from development-friendly forces added a somewhat different wrinkle to the fight.

In a critique released last week, Santa Monica Forward concluded the DCP is "aggressively slow-growth" and too influenced by a major foe -- the slow-growth movement.

Forward said the plan didn’t adequately consider the positive impact new building has on “social, economic, equity, or sustainability planning objectives.”

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