By Hector Gonzalez
April 20, 2015 -- Pico residents are praising the Santa Monica City Council’s decision last week to create a new and separate zoning district for their neighborhood, a plan they had been pushing for months to anyone who would listen.
Now they’re hoping the changes -- which they say could help preserve the upscale City’s most diverse and affordable neighborhood -- don’t come too late.
Council members ordered City Hall staff to begin the process for creating the new Pico “overlay” district as part of several actions members took this past Wednesday during a marathon, 10-hour study session for the City’s Zoning Ordinance Update.
During the session the Council also recommended a number of changes and amendments to the update and to the City’s Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE).
While Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA) leaders say it’s a good thing that the Council “took the first bold step” in preserving the Pico Neighborhood by approving the new district, they are concerned that the Council did not set a timeline for completing the process, said PNA Co-Chair Maria Loya.
“The fact that there wasn’t a timeline attached to the process is concerning for us, because the (Expo Line) Light Rail is scheduled to open next year,” said Loya. “We’re already hearing about families who are long-term renters who are being pushed out.
“Without protections in place the City is positioned to continue to lose its diversity.”
Council members last week simply directed staff to “open up the process,” which will mean public hearings before any final action is taken, Loya said.
While PNA encourages residents’ to speak up about issues concerning the Pico area, Loya said PNA leaders are worried about the continuing “gentrification” that’s taking place now, before the district’s new protections can be finalized.
It took months and dozens of public hearings, for example, before the Council was able to act last week on the Zoning Ordinance Update and LUCE amendments.
“That’s exactly what we are concerned about,” Loya said. “We recently learned that the Kentucky Fried Chicken on Stewart and Pico Boulevard has just been sold. Right next to it, there’s courtyard bungalows, and there are families that have lived there for generations that are now being threatened.”
As it stands, the Council’s actions “don’t go far enough to ensure protections against displacement for residents,” Loya said.
Council members, for example, took no action last week on proposed LUCE amendments restricting developers from consolidating multiple parcels into a single parcel, a major concern for Pico area residents, Loya said.
Instead, the Council directed the staff to review the existing restrictions contained in the LUCE.
“That’s significant for our neighborhood, because when you allow block consolidation it incentivizes the demolishing of existing affordable housing,” said Loya.
As first proposed in March by the PNA, the Pico Neighborhood Zoning District is a detailed plan that sets standards for residential housing, mixed-use and commercial developments, required street parking and the development of multiple parcels.
It’s intended to stem creeping “gentrification” changes already being seen in the area and which residents fear will only intensify with the arrival of the Expo rail line next year.
Among its outlined purposes, the new district would seek to “strengthen and sustain the Pico Neighborhood as a cultural and ethnic residential neighborhood that maintains its identity as a diverse-rich community in the middle of a thriving urban environment.”
A new overlay district also would ensure that the scale and design of new and rehabbed housing “is sensitive to the scale and massing of existing adjacent structures and with the surrounding neighborhood.”
Special protections would be included to protect Pico residents from the adverse impacts of development, including traffic, noise, air quality, parking and “the encroachment of commercial activities,” the document said.
Loya said City staff will use PNA’s proposal as a guideline for a future ordinance -- one her group is hoping to see within weeks, not months.
“At this point we’re informing our residents and members about the decision the Council took,” said Loya. “We expect our members to speak out in terms of the urgency of creating a Pico Neighborhood Zoning District.”