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Santa Monica Planning Officials Assuage Fears of Downzoning Pico Boulevard


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By Jorge Casuso

September 21, 2018 -- Some Pico Boulevard business owners are growing increasingly worried the busy thoroughfare will be downzoned as part of a plan City officials are embarking on to help preserve the neighborhood.

Emails began circulating this week urging business owners to attend the Zoning Workshop at Virginia Avenue Park on Monday at 6 p.m., the first public meeting in the planning process ("Santa Monica Planning Officials to Embark on Pico Neighborhood Plan," September 6, 2018).

"As you know, there are many stakeholders involved; the local residents, the City, the merchants and all existing businesses on Pico," Pico Improvement Organization (PIO) Chair Sharon Town Lee wrote in an email to the group's board members.

"The proposed zoning restrictions, if passed, would change the way business is conducted on Pico significantly," she wrote. "It is our responsibility to make sure we understand exactly what is being proposed and why."

City planning officials say the fears surrounding the plan -- which is meant to address a wave of gentrification Pico Neighborhood residents worry is threatening the character and affordable housing supply -- are unfounded.

"We are at the very beginning of the process," Planning Director David Martin told the Lookout Friday. "There are definitely no proposals on the table to make any changes in zoning.

"It's very preliminary," Martin said. "Nothing at all has been decided."

But the assurances haven't convinced some Pico business owners that the plan won't jeopardize their businesses.

Some Pico business owners worry that downzoning the street would drive them out and potentially reduce the value of their property.

"We are a major thoroughfare with public transportation and a light rail two blocks away," said Robert Kronovet, a former chair of the PIO. "This is pure 'not in my backyard' NIBY issues."

"Growth, progress and increased property values cannot be stopped by the signing of a ordinance or the drop of a gavel from municipal powers," Kronovet said, noting he was not speaking of behalf of the PIO, which has not taken a position.

Monday's meeting -- the first of several community charrettes focused on zoning and land use regulations -- is part of a process to address an issue the City Council made its top priority.

City planners already have embarked on "understanding the existing physical conditions and zoning analysis" of Santa Monica's poorest and most diverse area.

In a report released this month, City officials cautioned that "zoning alone cannot address issues related to gentrification and displacement."


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