Leaping To Tall Buildings In A Single Bound

Saturday, 16 Nov 2013, 8:56:00 AM

Steve Stajich

Steve Stajich, Columnist
Santa Monica Mirror Archives
Steve Stajich, Columnist

When contractors, construction industry-related business owners, real estate owners, and corporate hotel management types wake up in the morning, the first thought in their heads is always the same: “What can I do to reduce traffic and car congestion in Santa Monica?”

No, of course it’s not. So why is our city being sold tall building projects with arguments that include reducing reliance on cars? Much as I’m glad the Expo Line is coming to our city, the only solid evidence that people will respond to it and actually reduce their driving is yet to come… after the train line is running.

An LA Times article from Nov. 5 states that proposed hotels and hotel expansions are within walking distance of the rail line, “an added selling point for backers.” Really.

So there’s hard evidence that the demographic staying in $400-plus a night hotel rooms loves to climb on board public transportation…? I was not aware of that.

And much as we are making progress increasing and improving bicycle transportation in Santa Monica, visitors will still want to get to Universal City and downtown LA. Proposed high-rise hotels likely won’t come with a bicycle-built-for-two in every room.

Although a walk along the beach wouldn’t cause you hear the squadrons overhead, Santa Monica is being strafed by the attack planes of “growth” and it’s likely not a coincidence that the attack is happening after a revamp of the city’s land use plan and as Expo Line construction begins to increase its footprint. But how did our longtime resistance to growth and high buildings suddenly soften to the point where we’re actually considering Frank Gehry’s tower just a thrown seashell from the beach?

To borrow from Oliver Stone, money never sleeps.

Any moment in any discussion where we forget exactly what it is hotel corporations and developers want is a moment where we have let ourselves drift off into another world; one where motives are always projected through the righteous eyes of the collective whole of society.

This is not to say that our City Council has not been vigilant. It’s us. They hope that, with time, we will soften our resolve and their methods can be brilliant. To many, the Gehry building would represent a kind of world-class flourish for the city. Santa Monica would have its “Gehry”; call the post card printers. Then, pointing at that, expansion-hungry forces for hotels and condos would rightfully want to know why their tall buildings couldn’t also begin to block out our sky.

Because it is, in fact, our sky. If we don’t all have a sense that we can exert our wills against developers, then why don’t we just agree to build a big paper factory on the beach? Because, you would argue, a paper factory would be an ugly polluting blight that robbed our beaches of a certain pristine character. Whereas a tower designed by Frank Gehry actually gives rather than takes away. It gives us a big sky-blocking building that goes on to seed further tall buildings and pretty soon it’s not just the attention-grabbing Wiggler near the beach… it’s the tall building forest.

I’m overstating in fact, but hopefully not in theory. And what about those grand old days of yore when we fought for rights?

Not to dig into every dark chapter of how our country grew up, but historically the railroads just took what they wanted to lay their tracks across our country. Since days like those, we’ve come to expect that growth is measured and monitored by good citizens who consider and review the entire scope of things. Hence we don’t have a paper factory on our beach. But we do seem to have our soft tummies up right now, and dog owners know that means ‘rub me and I’ll be a good pet.’ We are not the pets of hotels and developers, no matter how delicious a treat additional tax base makes.

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