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New Planning Director Shares Vision

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

August 10 -- Driving through each neighborhood of the city window shopping for a home has given Eileen P. Fogarty a glimpse she shared with the public Tuesday night of the challenges she faces as Santa Monica’s new planning director.

Although Forgarty won’t come on board until September 25, on Tuesday night the former planning official from Alexandria, Virginia listed boosting affordable housing, alleviating traffic, insuring public participation and preserving quality of life as the key issues she will address.

“Here is a City that’s a very special place,” said Fogarty. “Each neighborhood, each area of the city, is different. Each one is walkable. The scale is comfortable. The retail areas are vibrant.”

Living and working in Alexandria; Santa Cruz, California and Annapolis, Maryland, Fogarty -- who has more than 22 years of planning experience -- said she knows what it is like to live and oversee development issues in a popular area.

“Coming out here, I have had the great fortune of working in healthy cities, vibrant cities, desirable places to live,” she said.

Yet those desirable places, she said, pose their own challenges.

“Challenges of traffic, challenges of affordable housing, challenges in keeping what’s unique about the environment” are all issues facing Santa Monica, Fogarty said.

And the chance to work with an involved citizenry is one of the main reasons Fogarty is looking forward to moving to the beachside city.

“It’s clearly a city where everyone is involved,” she told the council. “All the materials (I’ve received) and all the goals the City Council talked about, wanting to have an inclusive process, I felt that this could be a place that can succeed at what it wants with that kind of attitude.”

City Manager Lamont Ewell -- who was tapped by the council for the top paid post nearly nine months ago -- said Fogarty’s ability to reach out was an asset he looked for in hiring a new planning director.

“She has… established an outstanding track record for community outreach, resolving conflicts and building consensus within the community and with the development community,” Ewell said Tuesday.

Indeed, in the last few years, the battle over development -- including an aborted proposal to redevelop Santa Monica Place and add three 21-story condo towers -- has made headlines and led to the formation of a new civic group, the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC).

The dramatic proposal accentuated an ongoing battle between developers and slow-growth advocates, including a large and vocal faction within Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR), which has controlled City government for nearly two decades.

Fogarty will take the helm at a time when the City is updating key land-use documents that will shape the face of Santa Monica for decades to come.

But the most immediate order of business for Fogarty may be setting her own house in order.

For years, Santa Monica’s planning department has come under fire from developers who charge it is bogged down with red tape and an unpredictable permitting process.

A University of Southern California (USC) report two years ago highlighted internal strife within the department, including contentious relationships between staff and the City Council, Planning Commission and Architecture Review Board. Turnover has also been high.

While the City has already implemented internal changes to fix those problems, Ewell said Fogarty’s ability to work in a “team oriented environment” was one reason she was chosen.

Her track record improving and streamlining “development review processes” and providing “certainty and clarity for applicants and the public” added to her appeal, the city manager said.

City Council members welcomed the new planning director.

“You’ve been through it, and you know what you’re walking into,” said Council member Herb Katz. “We welcome you with open arms.”

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