Ted's 2016 Policy Ideas
Working to Protect Santa Monica's Future.
PROTECTING/PRESERVING OUR HISTORIC RESIDENTIAL NEIGHBORHOODS AND KEEPING SANTA MONICAS IN SANTA MONICA
Market pressures are driving up rents and threatening to change the character of our multifamily neighborhoods. Particularly pernicious is the use of the state law known as the Ellis Act, which allows a property owner to circumvent our rent control laws and to evict all tenants provided the existing building is no longer used for rentals. Landlords take advantage of this law to empty buildings, tear them down and build new condominium projects.
To discourage these sorts of evictions and teardowns and to keep Santa Monicans in Santa Monica while preserving the scale and character of our multifamily neighborhoods, our new zoning ordinance has downzoned the building standards in these neighborhoods to reduce the financial upside of redevelopment. In this way we hope to better maintain our supply of rent-controlled affordable housing.
We also use housing funds to buy existing apartment buildings, keep the existing tenants, rehab the buildings and, as vacancies occur organically, deed-restrict those apartments to lower-income households. In this manner we also preserve tenancies and neighborhood character.
Soon after the current update to our Historic Resources Inventory is complete, the Council will be revising our Landmark Ordinance. I hope the adjustments will allow us to more easily preserve historic housing.
And if all else fails, we must continue to create new affordable housing, since residents who lose their apartments through no-fault evictions get first priority for our affordable housing.
Finally, in our single family home neighborhoods we are seeing a lot of new construction that is built to the maximum allowable envelope and changing the character of streets. Our Planning Commission has begun to look at this issue. Many believe we should reduce the zoning to address mansionization. I’m interested in a simpler solution, which is to require new homes to generate 75% of their energy use on site. Since the allowed rooftop can only hold so many solar panels, the home size would be constrained while at the same time we would be moving closer to our goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.
TRAFFIC CONGESTION AND MOBILITY
Santa Monica has about the same residential population as it did in the 1950s, but clearly traffic congestion has worsened considerably since then, to the point where many find it intolerable.
Our traffic has several causes: a) the creation of new jobs in our city, so that we now have many more jobs than available housing; b) the increase in regional population, as over 30% of our congestion is due to motorists driving through Santa Monica to and from points outside our borders; and c) the recovery from the Great Recession, as a thriving local economy means more visitors to our city.
So what’s to be done?
First and foremost, traffic is a regional challenge that requires regional solutions. The efforts in recent years to create more mass transit in LA County have already yielded mobility options to the auto and we’ve seen the Expo line succeed in bringing people in and out of Santa Monica without adding vehicle trips to our streets. If the voters pass the County-sponsored Measure M, new revenues will allow Metro to greatly expand mass transit in our region. And the City continues to work to improve the first mile/last mile connection to the Expo line, so it can be accessed without using a car.
We also need to work with our neighbors in Los Angeles to enhance auto circulation. For instance, we have an advanced traffic management system which adjusts the lights on Olympic Boulevard headed east at rush hour to assure traffic flows as smoothly as possible. However, as soon as a driver crosses into West Los Angeles the traffic signals operate differently and traffic comes to a standstill before one reaches the 405. Interagency cooperation on such traffic issues will make a significant difference in mobility.
We will continue to offer residents and visitors alike the opportunity to navigate our city without using a car. New Big Blue Bus routes, new bike lanes, our Breeze bike share system, our new Pedestrian Action Plan to make walking safer, and other strategies are making it easier to use carbon-light and carbon-free means of transportation. Just a small shift to these modes of travel will reduce congestion for those who prefer to drive. And for those who still prefer to access downtown Santa Monica we will introduce in 2017 real-time signage at freeway exits and other access points to direct drivers to available parking to reduce circling around downtown streets.
New development should be almost exclusively housing, strategically located near jobs and housing in our downtown neighborhood as study after study shows that vehicle miles travelled are reduced in this manner. And we really don’t need much more office space in our town, since job creation has already generated commuter traffic.
Finally, we don’t need to market our city aggressively and should reconsider the large scale events which attract crowds. Santa Monica is already an incredibly desirable place to visit, so we don’t need to sell ourselves to the region.
No issue has been as contentious in this election cycle as the future of our built environment. Sadly, neighbor has been pitted against neighbor and the political discourse has devolved in name-calling and backstabbing.
I personally have experienced this vitriol, as I campaigned in 2012 as favoring “responsible development.” Apparently what is responsible to one person is overdevelopment to another. Some would like to see lots of new housing built by transit on our boulevards and downtown. Others don’t want to see another square foot of new construction.
So here’s my take.
We don’t need a lot more commercial development in our town. However, we do need housing, both to address the regional housing crisis and to keep development pressures off the housing in our historic neighborhoods. At the same time, we need to make sure downtown Santa Monica continues to thrive, as its 4% of our land area generates almost 40% of the tax revenue which pays for services to residents such as police, fire, and libraries.
So what’s to be done? Perhaps compromise between competing visions for our city is the answer.
To ease concerns about development, the City Council removed the proposed large “activity centers” from our Land Use and Circulation Element. And we removed the prospect of larger Tier 3 projects on many of our commercial boulevards to ameliorate concerns about the impacts on adjacent residential neighborhoods.
However, I believe we must continue to provide new housing downtown. Why?
First, it’s clear that in the New Economy cities must provide jobs and housing in close connection to one another, as the younger generation of employees isn’t interested in driving and wants to be able to live, work and play all in the same place. We have protected residents and their homes in our older neighborhoods, but in downtown new housing is on commercial sites where residents aren’t displaced. (The policy wonks out there may enjoy the PowerPoint about how cities must adapt to remain vital in the New Economy/ aka Innovation Economy/aka Knowledge Economy; http://www.lgc.org/wordpress/docs/events/ahwahnee/yosemite2013/yos13_Freedman.pdf)
Second, housing downtown by jobs and transit helps us to create the sort of compact, walkable neighborhood which reduces greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change. We all know every major environmental nonprofit recommends this sort of development. But did you know the Pentagon does as well? In 2009 the Joint Chiefs of Staff asked their best and brightest to analyze the biggest threat to national security. The answer was not Russian imperialism or terrorism or Chinese economic power, but climate change and its destabilizing impacts on world order. The military think tank then recommended three solutions: enhanced productivity via renewable energy; regenerative agriculture to address the prospect of dust bowls in food-producing regions; and compact, walkable neighborhoods to reduce vehicle miles traveled and demographic changes. (Again for wonks: PowerPoint of a presentation by Marine Colonel Mark Muckleby: http://www.lgc.org/wordpress/docs/events/ahwahnee/yosemite2015/yos15_Mykleby.pdf
So that’s my vision: Preserving Neighborhoods and Preparing For Tomorrow.
The U.S. Drought Monitor continues to show Santa Monica and our region as experiencing “exceptional drought” conditions and climate change models suggest that in the future periods of sustained water scarcity in Southern California will become the new normal. So what can be done?
Here in Santa Monica our drought response plan has reduced residential and business water consumption by over 20% while municipal water use has been cut in half. We’re also constantly replacing our water mains and other infrastructure to eliminate inadvertent loss of this precious resource. That’s a good start.
But planning for the future means we have to meet our goal of being solely reliant on our local sources of water, as imported water will only become scarcer and more expensive. So here’s what we’re doing:
- Planning for a third local well to increase access to groundwater.
- Building underground storage tanks at Los Amigos Park and at the beach north of the Pier to capture stormwater runoff and treat it for reuse for irrigation and toilet flushing.
- Working on a brackish water well to feed our recycling plant next to the Pier so we have a more reliable supply of non-potable water for irrigation and flushing, thus making more potable water available for residents.
- Planning for water storage and recycling under the surface parking lot at the Civic Center to recharge the aquifers from which we draw water.
- Requiring all new development to use no more water than the building being replaced.
These measures will assure we have a safe, reliable supply of local water in the future.