An Open Letter To The Santa Monica City Council Regarding Walkability

Monday, 13 May 2013, 11:56:00 AM

Letter To The Editor

Dear Council,

Tomorrow night, you are being asked to approve a Development Agreement which in a negligible way addresses the planning staff’s emphasis on “WALKABILITY” or LUCE’s buzzword phrases “GREEN CONNECTIONS” and “GROUND LEVEL OPEN SPACE” reached with over three years of public participation.

A three foot sidewalk extension covered by the overhanging building above is just another project where asphalt streets and cars abut concrete curbs and sidewalks which in turn butt up against four and five story retail and residential facadomy which is so familiar and deadening already on 5th street between Santa Monica and Broadway along with many other areas in the city.

A SIMPLE, EASY solution is requiring an average 10 ft sidewalk setback open to the sky for all developments. 

This square foot area could be linear, square, or triangular and would be a simple and easy requirement in the revised zoning ordinance for the downtown area. 

Besides being simple and easy, it is a WIN-WIN for the developer and the community – useful for outdoor retail for restaurants or galleries, enabling corner windows and openness and privacy for residential above. 

This area can be either a “public parklet” with benches or if the developer prefers a “private landscaped entrance,” but in any event should be considered a required setback rather than a community benefit.

If the developer prefers, alternatives could be an arcade connecting streets mid-block while providing “walkability” for the public and for the developer more window exposure for retail and apartments. 

Or alternatively, the developer could opt for a sideyard setback above the ground floor retail which again would provide light and open space for residential or offices above while giving scale and character to each building. This would avoid structures abutting one another cheek and jowel and provide a distinctive look to the downtown environment.

Start with the DA you’re reviewing tonight and simply require meaningful sidewalk setbacks for all developments for the benefit of both the developer and the community.

Ron Goldman, FAIA

Goldman Firth Rossi Architects

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