Santa Monica Must Outline Non-Negotiable Community Benefits To Developers

Sunday, 7 Jul 2013, 9:03:00 AM

Letter To The Editor

Dear Editor,

Attending a meeting last Saturday, the point was made by a Santa

Monica architect that FAR (floor area ratio) allows 84’ tall block

buildings as seen in construction on Ocean Avenue but high rise would be

better allowing space and light around and between. I strongly

disagree. A revised downtown zoning code can easily correct this

without defaulting to mid-rise or high-rise construction.

Telling a developer he’s allowed to build a box, he will build it.

City Hall must outline what is required to make this box artistic and

welcoming – along with non-negotiable community benefits if he’s given

additional height and density.

As expected, business interests at this meeting ragged on the city

not losing its business friendly manner while capturing additional

income with more density. Santa Monica is inherently business friendly

with its beachfront location/atmosphere - we don’t need to prostitute

ourselves to developers or the chamber.

And we don’t need higher buildings to get more light, air, and

landscape into downtown. We simply need a zoning code that requires

sidewalk setbacks, distance between buildings above 1st floor, and

significant terracing above 3 & 4 stories if we are to maintain our

beachfront community.

An interesting remark was made that, similar to Santa Monica, Paris

and Barcelona have only a handful of high rise buildings – so why do we

need more?? Do we want gay Paree or Densityville? And if we have an

“opportunity high rise” - only if it’s an iconic form such as water

cascading down and billowing out at the base of a waterfall.

Santa Monica should not lose its “beachfront character” for an “urban

downtown.” Current 84’ or 7 floors should be confined to a limited

area, terracing to 3 and 4 stories at downtown’s perimeter. This

terracing will help retain the fabric of existing 2 and 3 story

buildings, allowing “opportunity sites” to have some added height, but

only with exceptional community benefits and exceptional architecture

determined by a panel of architects and art critics from outside the

Santa Monica area.

If a public survey on heights is to be beneficial, it must show the

public what an 84’ building looks like as a block similar to 5th St. or

Ocean Avenue, what it looks like as a 10-12 story building, and what it

looks like with a minimum of creative thought and zoning.

The sideshow regarding a public survey on heights reminds me of a

remark heard recently that “there are people who pray in Vegas and those

who pray in church, but it’s those in Vegas who are really sincere.”

Hopefully the public won’t be hoodwinked with meaningless hyperbole.

In this regard, it is people who attend planning commission and

council meetings that understand what’s happening to this city. It took a

project next door for me to wake up in disbelief. The city required a

developer spend $125,000 on an EIR and then proceeded to process a

project that wasn’t even allowed by code!! It was wholesalely revised,

again processed, and still didn’t meet code. How does this happen – did

it help that the architect sat on a city commission?

Village Trailer Park was rushed through with a 2.8 FAR when weeks

later the council approved an area plan with reductions to 2.0 FAR,

terracing to 3 stories in scale with 1 and 2 story residences across


It took me a series of individual meetings with the city manager and

planning director to realize they cordially listen but don’t act. Will a

silent majority of the city understand this quagmire we’re in?? Enough

said, I’m off to pray in Vegas.

Ron Goldman, FAIA

Architect and Developer

Copyright © 2011 by Santa Monica Mirror. All rights reserved.