Santa Monica Lookout
Crowded Field Vies for Santa Monica Planning Commission Seat
By Jason Islas |
January 15, 2013 -- With one day left, 13 candidates have submitted applications for a seat on the Santa Monica Planning Commission, including three former City Council candidates and three activists who have been embroiled in development controversies.
Frank Gruber, Armen Melkonians and John C. Smith -- all of whom failed in their council bids November 6 -- are hoping to win a seat on Santa Monica's most powerful board.
Also seeking a seat are former Wilmont board members Valerie Griffin and Albin Gielicz, both of whom resigned amidst a controversy sparked when the board they led voted to endorse the redevelopment of the Miramar Hotel.
Sue Himmelrich, a lawyer with the Western Law and Poverty Center, is also in the running. Council members last month cited Himmelrich's contention that the development agreement (DA) for the Village Trailer Park did not propose enough affordable housing units when it voted to rescind the DA’s approval.
“Santa Monica is at a planning crossroads,” Himmelrich wrote in her application. “I am committed to Santa Monica’s diversity and sustainability at this critical juncture.”
Himmelrich's sentiments were echoed by Griffin who resigned her position as chair of the Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition (Wilmont) board after opponents of the Miramar’s "comprehensive redevelopment" took over the group.
Griffin backed the project, which will add as many as 120 condominiums in three new buildings replacing the two main buildings currently on the site, because it would boost the number of parking spaces from 167 to 484, with 125 of the spaces dedicated for workers, many of whom now park on the street.
“I want to help shape Santa Monica as a vibrant, yet human-scale, sustainable city of the 21st Century,” Griffin said. “I want to foster the diversity which is an integral part of our community.”
Under Griffin’s leadership the Wilmont board opposed the Bergamot Tranist Village project, a massive mixed-use development project by Texas-based developer Hines currently on hold.
Former Lookout columnist Frank Gruber is looking to return to the Planning Commission on which he served from1994 to 1999.
Gruber said he wants to “focus on making sure that the new development contemplated in the LUCE for the old industrial areas and along the boulevards results in neighborhoods and places that are as wonderful as the neighborhoods and places the city already has.”
Leslie Lambert, who served as a planning commissioner from 1987 to 1990, has thrown her hat in the ring as well, calling for “well-designed transit oriented development” around EXPO light rail stations in the city, as well as public open space and mixed-income housing.
Former Council candidate Armen Melkonians hopes to use his civil and environmental engineering background “to insure that a balanced and sustainable approach is included in our city's current planning efforts.”
Melkoninans submitted his application while simultaneously releasing his analysis of the Bergamot Area Plan in which he claims the area is experiencing a rate of residential development that has outpaced the projections made by the LUCE.
John C. Smith, who also ran for one of four open council seats, said he wants a Santa Monica that “supports all residents and business, has more open space, more affordable and workforce housing and less traffic.”
Tom Cleys, former vice president of Friends of Sunset Park, warns in his application that “too much and too large developments are a problem for the Community,” but adds that a balance must be struck to make sure that the city flourishes economically without being overdeveloped.
Landmarks Commissioner Nina Fresco is also making a bid for the Planning Commission, saying that she admires commissioners who “evaluate areas such as social justice, traffic, sustainability, excellence of design and consistency with expressed and documented goals already established in Santa Monica.”
After nearly 12 years on the Landmarks Commission, Fresco says she has an “almost building-by-building familiarity” with Santa Monica.
Also seeking a seat on the commission are Jodi Summers, Renee Weitzer and Laurence Eubank.
In addition to the 13 applicants, eight other applications have been on file since as least last summer.
The seat on the Planning Commission opened up when former Planning Commissioner Ted Winterer stepped down in December after being elected to the City Council.
Winterer and his fellow council members are expected to pick the new planning commissioner at their January 22 meeting.
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