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Santa Monica City Council Grapples with Survey on Development

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By Jason Islas
Lookout reporter

March 20, 2014 -- A citywide survey to gauge residents’ attitudes about development didn’t seem to change the minds of City Council members, who got their first chance to parse the results Tuesday.

Some 20 speakers turned out for the first public meeting to discuss the 637-page report on the results of a telephone survey of 500 households that showed a Santa Monica divided over whether the city is headed in the right direction over development.  (“Santa Monicans Divided About Height, Support Bergamot Arts District Development, Survey Shows,” February 28, 2014)

“As a community, we're going to continue to grapple with these issues,” said Mayor Pam O’Connor Tuesday.

One of key issues is whether to change Santa Monica’s current height limit of 84. According to the report, about 71 percent of the people asked supported the current height limits.

Councilmember Kevin McKeown saw that as a repudiation of three proposed projects by hotels in Downtown Santa Monica that would range from 195 feet to more than 300 feet tall.

“If I look at this survey, at the outcome of the questions, what I hear is 'we don't want a high rise community,’” McKeown said.

Former mayor Mike Feinstein, who spoke Tuesday, agreed.

“New urbanism doesn't have to overrun natural beauty and scale,” he said, reiterating his opposition to allowing the hotels to build taller buildings in order to include luxury condos.

Some of those who testified were concerned by the way some of the questions were asked.

Mary Marlow, a slow-growth advocate, pointed to the question about the Bergamot Area Plan, which outlines the parameters for future development in the city’s former industrial corridor.

The survey described the Plan’s stated goals of creating “a walkable, urban art- and transit-oriented neighborhood that allows a mix of housing and creative uses, supported by restaurants and retail to serve people in the area.”

Marlow likened the way the question was phrased to asking if someone likes apple pie.

McKeown agreed that the phrasing, which comes from the Plan itself, was based on a “rosy vision.”

One of the projects in the Bergamot area was recently the subject of a referendum drive that could overturn the Council’s 4 to 3 vote last month that capped seven years of negotiations. (“SMRR, Neighborhood Groups Rally for Anti-Development Referendum,” February 14, 2014)

The council also discussed what appeared to be a demographic gap in the responses. About 90 percent of 18 to 34 year olds asked said they believed Santa Monica was heading in the right direction or at least, staying the same.

The results showed that “younger respondents and Latinos were more likely to see the City going in the right direction and be more supportive of downtown development,” according to the Brian Godbe, president of Godbe Research, which conducted the poll.

McKeown said he was “deeply troubled” by people turning the survey into a wedge issue by characterizing the results as if, “All the 20 year olds are saying 'The future's so bright, I've gotta wear shades' and all the 60-year-olds are saying, 'Get off my lawn!'

 “I don't think it is that way,” McKeown said. “I think it's a lot more complicated issue than that.”

Juan Matute, a Santa Monica resident in his early 30s, said that “some of the survey was very validating.”

He said Santa Monica is experiencing the biggest influx of young people since a wave of residents in the 20s moved to the bayside city in the 1970s and 1980s.

O’Connor said that the results, although divided by age, didn’t necessarily mean an inter-generational war is taking place.

She noted that throughout the country and the world, as the Baby Boomer generation prepares to retire and the Millennial generation begins to come of age, there are dramatic cultural changes happening.

“We're somewhat of a microcosm of those kinds of cultural changes,” she said. “The world will change, but it's ours to shape.”

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