Santa Monica residents, property owners and members of the business community, among others, gathered with city planners and several City Council members for an “industrial lands” community workshop Saturday, July 21st.
The workshop was held to explore the potential of the city’s industrial areas over the next 20 years and to hear community feedback, to be taken into account when the city considers principles for future development.
This is part of the city’s effort to update the Land Use and Circulation Elements (LUCE), part of Santa Monica’s “General Plan” — a set of policies and programs that form a blueprint for physical development throughout the city.
Santa Monica’s Land Use and Circulation Elements are being updated to “reflect changes in land use, community needs and values, lifestyles and the regional marketplace that have occurred since 1984, when the city adopted its current land use element,” city officials said.
“With over 20 years passed, we thought we needed to look at it [the Land Use and Circulation Elements] again and create a vision and look at the next 20 years,” said Liz Bar-El, senior planner for the city’s Planning and Community Development Department.
The city will also rewrite the associated Zoning Ordinance, which “will allow land use policies to be translated directly into standards that implement the goals and objectives of the Land Use Elements on a daily basis.”
Santa Monica has about 400 acres of industrial lands. Some of these areas include Santa Monica College, the Post Office Distribution Center, Virginia Avenue Park, Bergamot Station, the Big Blue Bus Yard, Memorial Park, Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center, the Yahoo! Center, Woodlawn Cemetery, apartments and small businesses.
The city’s goal is to preserve its heritage while “capitalizing upon opportunities to create vibrant new community places and ensure our important role within the region.”
At the workshop, which started in the morning, Eileen Fogarty, Planning and Community Development Department director, gave the first presentation, providing an overview to help people get oriented with the industrial areas and what the city’s chal- lenges are.
Then a panel of experts — economists William Whitney and Dena Belzer, and transportation specialist Jeffrey Tumlin — gave presentations on economic, transportation and connectivity issues the city will be facing in the future.
In the afternoon, participants broke out into group work sessions to express their vision for the areas.
They marked up study area maps to show which existing resources should stay and where they felt areas of opportunity were for the future, Bar-El said.
Participants also suggested transportation improvements and connections that would help the area function well for both bicyclists, transit users, drivers and pedestrians.
Later, they presented their ideas in a group discussion.
“People talked about preserving industrial areas to keep the economic base of the city, people talked about transit, creating the links,” Bar-El said, adding that there was a lot of support for the art community.
A common theme among those who attended the workshop was that people didn’t want to see the “uniqueness” and “character” of special places in the city, like Bergamot Station, lost when the Exposition Light Rail transit comes through the city in the future, Bar-El said.
“You want a plan that’s going to build on the transit but not lose that character and those small businesses,” she said. “We’re trying to get ahead of that issue now while the [extension of the] Expo Light Rail is still being planned.”
Other common themes discussed at the workshop were connectivity, having more comfortable areas to walk and bike to the future transit so people can get there without having to drive, and easing congestion through alternatives, Bar-El said.
“Affordable housing is always another theme and making sure, in allowing housing, you don’t somehow lose the character of the industrial area,” she said.
No matter what, Bar-El said, “development is happening. The population is increasing. Obviously we’re all aware of traffic issues. What we’re doing with the Land Use and Circulation Elements is we’re trying to get ahead of what’s happening so we can make sure in the next 20 years we get what we want for the city.”
“Santa Monica is a very desirable location,” Bar-El added. “People want to come here; people are interested. People will develop here if they can. As a desirable community, we need to stand up and say we don’t want just anyone to build just anything here. We want amenities for our public. Builders have to bring something that we want to our community — and we can demand that and we can get that. And the way that you do that is you have a plan.”
The Land Use and Circulation Elements document provides a “framework” for decision-making and also helps determine how the community will look and function as it evolves.
Bar-El said she was pleased with the workshop’s turnout of over 90.
“We had a really wide range of people that participated,” said Bar-El. “And people were engaged. I think it helped us a lot to hear the community’s concerns and issues.”
Another “industrial lands” workshop will be held sometime in the fall, so the city can gather more community feedback on updating the Land Use and Community Elements document. A date has not yet been set.