The Santa Monica Downtown Specific Plan: What Say You?

Saturday, 15 Dec 2012, 12:38:00 AM

Susan Cloke

Susan Cloke, Columnist
Santa Monica Mirror Archives
Susan Cloke, Columnist

“This is my city and...” It’s what you hear at public meetings as person after person speaks on behalf of the city they love. Their passion for the city is part of why I love Santa Monica. Now they are helping to shape the future of the downtown.

The Santa Monica Downtown Specific Plan Workshop, held in the east wing of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on Dec. 5 was the third in a series of planning workshops. People were invited to learn about how the plan is shaping up and give feedback on unique experience, places and buildings that make downtown so special and (learn about) the ideas for creating a walkable and complete downtown filled with great buildngs, public spaces, an exciting downtown for residents and visitors.

Neal Payton, a principal in the architecture firm of Torti Gallas and Partners, told the 160 or so people in the audience that the LUCE is the “bible” for the development of the downtown.

He listed goals for the plan including creating: “a great walk” with wider sidewalks and great destinations; authenticity to be achieved by creating the right spaces for events and activities that could only be in Santa Monica; downtown neighborhood parks, the possible re-adaptive use of the post office building as a public space; and to “ensure that new buildings are of a quality that enhances and enriches downtown.”

In his presentation of what makes a downtown great, Neal Payton also talked about identifying “opportunity sites.” Places where the City would consider exceeding height and other zoning requirements in exchange for community benefits.

“These opportunity sites would be sites, he said, for “iconic architecture.”

Danilo Bach, a long time Santa Monica resident, said of the idea that one cannot predict a building will become iconic.

“I think it’s a clumsy concept,” Bach said. “A building only becomes iconic over time and because of what it means to the community.”

Payton lost the audience when he started talking about the 275 feet high One Wilshire building. He thought it had admirers in the City. From the audience reaction, if there are admirers of the building, they weren’t in that room.

Newly elected Council member Ted Winterer said he would like to see the workshop more directly address people’s major concerns.

“Look at all these people here,” Winterer said. “They want to talk about scale and height of the buildings. They want to talk about traffic and how to solve the traffic problems of getting around downtown and through downtown to other parts of the City. Instead we’re being asked to talk about gateways. For 160 people to give up their Wednesday evening they want it to be meaningful.”

On Sept. 27, 2011 the City Council voted to approve a contract with Torti Gallas and Partners for $655,500 (includes a 15 percent contingency) “to provide land use and urban design services, transportation planning, economic analysis, architectural and urban form studies, circulation and parking analysis, and community outreach services related to the preparation of the Downtown Specific Plan.”

A successful downtown is essential to the well being of the City. Most of the contract monies will go to the consultants doing data gathering, research and analysis.

Only a portion will go to Torti Gallas. Whatever that portion is, to earn it, they need to convince us of their understanding of the city we love.

Many good ideas were presented at the workshop. Wider sidewalks, more parks, historic preservation, cultural activities, and careful attention to design are an important consideration for any Specific Plan. What we need to know is that this plan will be specific to Santa Monica and will protect the scale and character of the City.

What Say You?

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