The Santa Monica City Council gave conceptual approval Tuesday, April 26th, to a Planning and Community Development Department report that summarizes public input on a city update to the General Plan.

“This outreach process and community participation have been extraordinary and given us a vast pool of ideas and opinions,” said Andy Agle, Planning and Community Development acting director.

The General Plan is considered by councilmembers to be a sort of “constitution” and sets 20-year guidelines for future city policies and zoning ordinances.

Santa Monica is updating General Plan chapters on land use and circulation — traffic, transportation, pedestrian and bicycle activity.

The last time Santa Monica updated its general plan was in 1984.

Updates to the land use and circulation chapters are scheduled for final approval by the City Council next year and would provide a framework for the city until 2025.

The Planning and Community Development Department and the consulting firm of Dyett & Bhatia have been gathering public input through a series of community meetings and workshops called “Shape the Future 2025” and “Motion by the Ocean.”

City staff and consultants wrote a comprehensive report that identified 12 themes that emerged from discussions with 3,000 people in Santa Monica.

The report is the culmination of the first phase of the public input process.

The City Council — in a joint meeting with the Planning Commission — approved the report and added new themes so that city staff could begin the second phase, which involves meetings and workshops on specific topics.

“The emerging themes report lays the foundation for future stages of the planning process as we steadily narrow our efforts to prepare a final plan,” Agle said.

Some of the 12 themes state that the public wants Santa Monica to be, in the future, a city with:

– small beach-town ambiance, walkability, diversity and innovation;

– a sophisticated array of amenities including stores, restaurants, transit, arts and culture;

– pedestrian and bicycle friendly streets; and

– new buildings that are similar in height and scale to existing buildings.

Herb Katz, mayor pro tem, took issue with theme number four and wanted the report’s language changed so that the words are general and not specific.

The descriptive paragraph for theme number four includes the sentence, “Existing height limits should be maintained, and high rise buildings are not appropriate in any part of Santa Monica.”

Katz said the sentence would lock the City Council into agreeing with the statement and would prevent the council from making modifications when General Plan updates are scheduled for final approval next year.

“I am not advocating high- rises, but heights should be looked at and studied and not omitted entirely as being inappropriate,” Katz said.

“Once we accept this in concept, people will come back to us several months later and say we bought it as it is,” he said.

Marsha Moutrie, city attorney, said the City Council would not lose any legal rights to make modifications.

“Any decision you make tonight on the themes does not legally preclude you from doing anything later,” Moutrie said.

She said approving the report simply gives the planning staff a “green light” to proceed with the second phase of the public input process.

Planning commissioners and the City Council voted to not change the language in theme number four.

“We may not individually agree with some of the emerging themes, but the themes adequately represent what the community is thinking,” said Arlene Hopkins, planning commissioner.

“I would like for community input to be respected,” she said.

Agle said staff included the language in the report because the sentiment “is something we heard very consistently throughout the community outreach process.”

“We are basically receiving the results of a poll and not locking anything in,” said Councilmember Bobby Shriver.

“The descriptions in the report are informative and not exclusive,” said Councilmember Richard Bloom.

“For us to start monkeying with the language is inappropriate because number four, according to staff, is based on a significant amount of community input,” Bloom said.

Councilmembers and planning commissioners added themes that were not included in the report so that the public can think about the topics in the second phase of the public input process.

Those themes include healthcare, education, business, childcare, affordable housing, improvement of city services and other issues.

“Childcare is a land use and circulation issue because people who don’t have childcare facilities in or near their neighborhoods have to drive somewhere else and this creates more traffic,” said Councilmember Kevin McKeown.

Kathryn Dodson, Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive officer, said the report excludes input from businesses.

Other representatives from the chamber said planning staff did not gather input from healthcare organizations, Santa Monica College or the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

“There is considerable fear of overdevelopment and overgrowth,” McKeown said. “As we get into discussions about economic issues, there will be financial constraints on what people want.

“We certainly have to have economic development.”