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And Two Years Became Six

By Frank Gruber

December 14, 2009 -- I reported last week that the Planning Commission's review of the draft text of the new land use and circulation elements (LUCE) of Santa Monica's general plan would have to wait until at least January, because that would be the earliest date by which the City will have released the draft environmental impact report (EIR) for the LUCE.

It looks like the commission will have to wait until April to make comments on the document.

That is because the City Attorney's office informed the commission, at its meeting last Wednesday, that the commission cannot work on revisions to the draft LUCE until there is a final EIR to evaluate alongside it. The final EIR will not be prepared until after completion of the public comment period on the draft EIR, which will continue for at least 45 days after the draft EIR is released to the public.

In response to public comments, the draft EIR will be revised, and a "final" EIR will not be available until April at the earliest. I placed "final" within quotation marks, because in fact an EIR is not final until the decision-making body (in this case not the Planning Commission, but the City Council) certifies the EIR.

According to the City Attorney's office, the time for the planning commissioners to comment on the adequacy of the EIR is when the commission finally reviews the somewhat-more-final EIR along with the draft LUCE.

If this seems like a silly delay to you, then you are in agreement with the commissioners, who were incredulous that they would not be able, along with members of the public, to comment on the draft EIR. As Commissioner Jay Johnson said, by the time the draft EIR had been revised, the "horse [would be] out of the barn."

I'm sympathetic to the commissioners, and the process would benefit if they can give their comments to the draft EIR in the review period. The delay, however, should not have much impact on the overall schedule for adopting the LUCE, as the commissioners' chapter-by-chapter review of the draft LUCE cannot occur until they have the post-comment version of the EIR in front of them.

In retrospect, I have to wonder why so much time was spent on preparation and review of the LUCE "Strategy Framework" that the Planning Department released in June 2008. This (long and comprehensive) document covered virtually all of the substance of what's in the draft LUCE, but not in "plan language." Wouldn't it have made more sense to go straight to a draft of the LUCE?

Then the Planning Commission, followed by the City Council, could have reviewed that draft, and then the resulting revised draft -- representing specifically what the City government would want -- would have been the subject of environmental review before the commission and the council adopted a final LUCE.

Instead, the commissioners and then the members of the City Council will be simultaneously dealing with the language of the LUCE and the EIR, rather than using the EIR to evaluate a draft of the LUCE that they had previously, subject to environmental review, approved.

One reason why a two-year process became a six-year process.

* * *

Speaking of the LUCE, one of the controversies about it has swirled around its goal of allowing development but not a net increase in the amount of car trips. Opponents of the plan have expressed skepticism about how this could be achieved.

To see what can be done when traffic is attacked directly, at the source, i.e., by making driving more inconvenient and alternatives more convenient, rather than indirectly, through limiting development, which has never worked, I recommend taking a look at an article about traffic on the UCLA campus that appeared last week in UCLA Today, the newsletter for UCLA faculty and staff.

According to the article ("Putting a car-driven culture in reverse", since 2003 the number of vehicles on campus has dropped from 126,000 per day to 110,000, a 13 percent decline. Only 37 percent of UCLA commuters now drive alone to campus; the comparable figure for Los Angeles is 74 percent.

The reasons for the drop: aggressive efforts to provide and improve alternatives to solo driving and increased residential density in the form of more on-campus student housing.

* * *

Last week was one during which many congratulations were warranted among notable Santa Monicans (and soon-to-be Santa Monicans).

Council Member Richard Bloom was, as reported in The Lookout, appointed to the Coastal Commission.

Planning Commissioner Gwynne Pugh's architectural firm, Pugh + Scarpa, won the highly, and I mean highly, prestigious "firm award" awarded to one architectural firm each year by the American Institute of Architects. According to the AIA's press release, "The [award] is based on its 35 years of consistent excellent work, including [Pugh + Scarpa's] seamless blending of architecture, art, and craft; community involvement; attention to sustainable design; and nurturing of in-house talent. The AIA Architecture Firm Award, given annually, is the highest honor the AIA bestows on an architecture firm".

Perhaps more of a welcome than congratulations are due to Rod Gould, who in January will become Santa Monica's new city manager. It's clear from his resume, and confirmed by people I heard from both inside and outside Santa Monica, that Mr. Gould's peers rate him among the most capable of all of California city managers. Only 52, he's run cities for already almost 20 years.

What we'll have to see, of course, is if he has what it takes to manage a city that is larger and which has a larger and more complex government, and which is decidedly more urban, than the cities (San Rafael and Poway) that Mr. Gould has managed before. But as I said, he's only 52 and he must be looking forward to new challenges.

The most happy congratulations go out to City Council Member Kevin McKeown, who last week married Genise Schnitman . In true Santa Monica style, the happy couple, who knew each other somewhat for ten years or so, truly became involved with each other as they both worked on various election campaigns, including the one for Mr. McKeown's reelection in 2006. Best wishes to them both.

* * *

Amid all the good news, I would be remiss not to send out best wishes for a speedy recovery to Mayor Ken Genser, who has been hospitalized for the past month. Let's hope he'll been back in the center of the dais soon.

Frank J. Gruber is the author of Urban Worrier: Making Politics Personal, available at Hennessey + Ingalls and Angel City books in Santa Monica, at City Image Press, and on

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