Curious City – BACK TO NORMAL?

WE’RE DOING IT ALL WRONG

A lot of stuff. Most stuff. Many cities do, I suppose. Bureaucracies can screw up the best of plans. But for the most part, we have the worst of plans, or no plans at all. Our piecemeal approach to ”city planning” seems intentional, allowing the deeply entrenched “nothing wrong with this project” thinking that gives predators their lucrative openings. And means never having to say you’re sorry because, who knew?

Long-term, big picture vision should be driving our future here, but isn’t. New way out of the box post-pandemic thinking! Why? It’s very hard to reverse accepted notions after years or decades. We have begun, with the unprecedented unseating last election of three incumbents at City Council, replaced by three whose credo is, SM for residents first, not outside interests. What a concept. Now there is a grass roots, parents-driven move to recall some members of the School Board, another step in the right direction of getting transparency and community input back into our school operations, and putting the brakes on insane spending.

I’M THANKFUL

Every day, to live in this beautiful place. But a lot less thankful than I was 15 years ago, or even two years ago. How about you? Driven down Lincoln lately? You may need your lights, even mid-day. Downtown SM? Did you try to squeeze onto the Pier last weekend? Ah, the Pier, I’ll always cherish those great concerts we were able to have for 30 years…

The positives are disappearing before our eyes, and they don’t need to. Palm trees, cool ocean breezes, the blue sky above, a low rise beach city. You can keep those, moving into the 21st century.

Santa Monica is a treasure, to Los Angeles and to the world. Progress and growth, evolution and change are inevitable, but when they reel out of control, we call it cancer.

Santa Monica governance is a very complex beast. Most regular folks throw up their hands in despair of sorting it all out. We the residents, the electorate, need to look at these big issues and use common sense in asking at least two questions:

does this make sense, and who benefits?

A lot of it doesn’t make sense and has been long proven wrong, like trickle down Reaganomics. But there’s little accountability so it keeps getting trotted out. Baloney is baloney. Call spades spades. Don’t be distracted by shiny objects. Here are a few.

HOUSING

Seems all you ever hear, for decades. Housing, housing, housing..“Affordable” housing. To preserve our diversity (what’s left of it).

First of all, we don’t have a housing crisis here. We have an affordability crisis. And the Council/staff solution? Build our way to affordability. Ask any local real estate agent if that will work.

How’s this for a plan? Get a handful of “affordable” units by allowing developers to build hundreds of market rate units. So now we have runaway development, raising our skyline, our population, the cost of new and existing housing, causing stress, inviting crime, depleting our resources, snarling our traffic, ruining so many things about our city, unnecessarily. We are already one of the densest cities in CA.

We have at least 4,500 empty units now, by best estimates (and I’ll bet that’s low). But previous Councils kept signing off on more and more, to get those few “affordables.” That won’t solve the problem, when you can make nearly six figures and still qualify for an “affordable” unit. What if your family of four makes only $30,000?

Our new Council members are invoking common sense to find better solutions than building our city out to the sidewalks and up to the sky. “Supply and Demand” doesn’t operate on real estate this expensive, on the coast.

Who benefits from all this overdevelopment? What kind of mess will it leave us?

THE UNSHELTERED

The intractable problem. Trying to solve it only in SM is like roping off a pee section in a public swimming pool. We can’t alleviate the income inequality that’s at the core, and the mental health and addiction problems that complicate it, but we can focus on what will help now: social services combined with immediate if temporary housing. Don’t try to do it all at once. Get people off the street, so they are safe (and in a pandemic, we are too), then work on services and more permanent housing. And it’s all useless unless you get other cities to recognize that it’s a regional problem, and do their share.

We’ve been holding back because we’re told that to build even one individual mini-unit here costs $3/4-M. But looky there! LA is doing it for one-fifth that cost. Does that make sense?

CRIME

Our city government’s reluctance to act after the invasion and looting of May 31 tells you a lot. This was so preventable. But we were woefully unprepared, so the damage was massive. It was one of the worst moments in our city’s history. To top it off, we kept our police busy two blocks from the looters, using tear gas and rubber bullets on legal, peaceful BLM protesters. But no consequences, no real changes to policing. (Two study committees, though.) What did we learn, what have we changed? Not nearly enough.

Everyday crime? Our Council and staff trot out selected stats to show there is no crime problem. But if so many in the city think there is, and have experienced it. isn’t that what needs to be addressed, instead of denial?

TRAFFIC, TRANSIT

Cars are evil. If you allow parking spaces, that creates cars, and traffic. So we bend the rules to let developers build units with little or no parking. Problem solved. Except for the irate neighbors. Who does this benefit? Developers, you think? It is so much cheaper to not have to build those parking spaces.

We can build like crazy if it’s near a transit route. Buses, trains, etc. By that measure, all of SM is exempt. But would you call what we have here, mass transit?

INFRASTRUCTURE

We’re fast depleting our resources, especially water, but we keep building because this particular building will have enough water. Oh, you think we should take into account the other two dozen buildings coming very soon? Don’t be silly. All that building downtown, and where is our downtown school?

TOURISM

We’re doing all we can to bring back the tourists! All 9,000,000 of them. Is it possible, all things considered, we might be better off with half that number, or less? Maybe our police and fire could spend more time serving residents, than this tourist city of 9Mwithin a city of 92,000?

STAFF

We’ve made only token efforts to cut staff, which greatly affects our hemorrhaging budget. And our ticking pension bomb. More code enforcement, fewer lawyers. You can rent them.

I don’t have many answers, but I do keep saying we have to bring Santa Monica back differently. Communicate with your Council members. Demand better, leaner ways of doing things, and accountability. We will never have this opportunity again.

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 34 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at [email protected]

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Author: Charles Andrews


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