Santa Monica Lookout
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Bay Area Urbanist to Lead Santa Monica Downtown Workshop

Downtown Meeting June 9 at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center.

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
Roque & Mark Real Estate
2802 Santa Monica Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90404
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Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica


By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

June 9, 2016-- After a brief pause, Santa Monica’s heated debate over future development downtown heads back into the public arena Thursday when the City hosts a Bay-area urbanist known for creating welcoming public spaces amid congested city streets.

John Bela, a San Francisco-based urbanist and designer of public spaces, is the featured speaker at the first of three City-sponsored events over the summer as City officials edge back into a long, loud and contentious fight over the Community Development Plan (CDP) for downtown.

Bela will speak on “what brings places to life, and map the concepts included in the Downtown Community Plan,” with a focus on improving quality of life, social connectedness and public space, according to City officials.

The talk is Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m. at the East Wing of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, 1855 Main Street.

Bela’s ideas on use of public spaces are well known and respected in the world of civic design, which is why he was asked to lead the discussion on downtown’s future, said City Planning Manager Jing Yeo.

Bela will focus on “what brings places to life, what makes places great,” she said.

A Senior Lecturer at the California College of Arts in San Francisco, Bela is a Distinguished Lecturer at UC Berkeley and holds degrees in Landscape Architecture and Environmental Design, Biochemistry, and Sculpture.

But some outspoken critics of the draft CDP were unimpressed with the City’s selection of an urbanist for Thursday’s session, particularly one with roots in a city known for its high-rise skyline that differs from Santa Monica in other ways.

“Urbanism seems like code for "let's overbuild the Downtown while NOT allowing for significant public open spaces that make for great cities and uncommon experiences,” Diana Gordon of the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City, said in an email to the Lookout.

Another critic is Armen Melkonians, who spearheaded a measure headed for the November ballot that requires a public vote on most development projects taller than 32 feet.

The Land Use Voter Empowerment Initiative (LUVE) is a reaction to what slow-growth advocates see as the overdevelopment of Santa Monica and especially its downtown, where major projects that would change the City's skyline are in the planning pipeline. Those same worries extend to the City’s daft CDP ("Santa Monica Downtown Plan Will Open Floodgates to Major Development, Group Contends," March 8, 2016).

“Santa Monica is not San Francisco and the community doesn’t want it to be San Francisco,” said Melkonians, who is the founder of Residocracy, the slow-growth group behind LUVE. “This is why the residents are fighting" the CDP, he said.

Thursday’s workshop is the first public meeting after a calming period called by City Manager Rick Cole at the end March, delaying until Spring 2017 a council vote originally set for this summer ("Vote on Downtown Santa Monica Plan Delayed Yet Again," March 31, 2016).

Cole said more time and “public outreach” was needed to reach consensus, although his critics think he and the Council are trying to wear them down -- and delay the Council’s decision until after the November elections, when four council seats are up for grabs.

The CDP has been in the making for at least six years.

Thursday’s session will be followed by two more this summer. The next session, in July, centers on preservation. The last will focus on mobility, officials said.

Stations will be set up in the room after each of the talks, where related materials will be available and participants can provide input.

The City is also launching a series of small group discussions and an online questionnaire to collect community input. Feedback from all three sources will be added to the final Downtown Community Plan set for release in spring 2017, City officials said.

Feedback can be submitted online through the comments section of

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