On April 12, the city of Santa Monica will present a final draft of the plan that will shape the future of the bayside city’s downtown for the next two decades.
The most recent draft of the Downtown Community Plan (DCP), which has undergone more than four years of planning and community input, will be unveiled at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium East Wing next Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at what the city is calling the “final DCP release event.”
The Downtown Community Plan answers the question: what sort of place should the Downtown Santa Monica of 2036 strive to be?
That future does not come with the expectation that everyone in Santa Monica will own a car as their primary means of transportation.
For starters, Downtown Santa Monica got a commuter train line last May, marking the first time in more than half a century that Santa Monica and the Westside have been connected to the region by rail.
A growing network of bike lanes and the city’s new bike-share system, the first public bike-share system in L.A. County, have already begun reshaping the way people get around in Santa Monica. Then there’s car-share and the rise of transportation network companies (TNCs), like Uber and Lyft, which are also impacting people’s transportation and car-ownership habits.
There’s also the reality that Santa Monica and West L.A. are at the epicenter of L.A. County’s housing shortage, causing rents in the city to reach some of the most expensive in the state.
Downtown Santa Monica is one of the few places where the city can still add housing without displacing existing homes.
The plan looks at how the city can prioritize new housing — affordable to a wide range of incomes — in its core. The plan lays out strategies for preserving historic structures while strategically redeveloping underutilized parcels in a way that provides the most benefit to the community. And it keeps a focus on assuring that downtown continues to thrive as the city’s economic engine.
Then there’s the question of economic sustainability. Only a few decades ago, Downtown Santa Monica was a neglected corner of the city that most locals avoided after dark. Today, it is a thriving urban neighborhood.
The plan contemplates strategies for maintaining those successes and avoiding a backslide into the dilapidated Downtown Santa Monica that existed a little more than a generation ago.
Still, some see what started off as an ambitious approach to designing a sustainable future devolve into resignation and defeat.
Frank Gruber wrote about the last iteration of the plan that too much had been compromised. In his blog post, “Not inspirational: more on the Downtown Community Plan,” he wrote:
I’m not crazy for height for height’s sake.
But the limits on height in the DCP—for practical purposes 60 feet (five or six stories, depending on the height of the first floor)—go too far. (While in some places, in a “Tier 3” project, the DCP would permit heights as high as 84 feet (eight stories), and the plan is vague on what might happen on the four remaining “large sites,” realistically the default height limit is going to be 60 feet, because in most of downtown developers will rarely if ever attempt a Tier 3 project, which would require a development agreement.)
This 60-foot limit epitomizes nothing more than resignation, lack of imagination, and catering to irrational fears about losing downtown’s “charm and character,” as if DTSM’s character is based on the mostly nondescript buildings there rather than the people on the streets.
There is no denying that land use in Santa Monica is a controversial issue. Since the last draft of the plan, the city went through a bruising electoral fight over whether or not to approve Measure LV, a draconian anti-growth measure that would have required a public vote on virtually all projects taller than 32 feet.
The measure’s proponents, many of whom had criticized earlier versions of the Downtown Community Plan for allowing mid-rise housing projects, openly oppose new housing growth in the city. In November, however, the measure lost by 11 percentage points.
On April 12, city officials will reveal the most recent iteration of the plan, which will likely have changed since Gruber penned his criticisms. Will it be the plan our city needs?
Find out more at downtownsmplan.org.