Santa Monica Lookout
Small Crowd Vents Development Concerns at Downtown Santa Monica Specific Plan Meeting
By Jason Islas
October 7, 2013 -- About 60 people turned out to vent their concerns about the future of development in Downtown Santa Monica at a public meeting on the area's pending Specific Plan Thursday.
Residents at the meeting -- hosted by the City to get residents' input for a State-mandated environmental impact report (EIR) of the proposed Specific Plan -- reiterated their desire to keep Downtown's skyline low.
Thursday's meeting was calm compared to previous public forums about the plan, including a tumultuous meeting in spring which was attended by some 300 people. ("Residents Air Worries Over Height in Downtown Santa Monica," May 7)
“EIR scoping is specific and somewhat technical, but the general public concerns about our downtown came through loud and clear,” Councilmember Kevin McKeown told The Lookout Friday.
McKeown attended the Thursday meeting along with Councilmember Ted Winterer, who said, “I thought the meeting effectively conveyed to staff and the consultant the issues those who attended would like to see studied in the environmental analysis for the Downtown Specific Plan.”
At the meeting, speakers aired their concerns about height and density limits to theDan Gira with AMEC, the consultant hired by the City to oversee the EIR.
But they also added questions about the impact of future development on traffic, air quality and historical preservation.
Carol Lemlein, president of the Santa Monica Conservancy, called for the EIR to recommend “a much more proactive designation strategy to protect” historical buildings in the Downtown.
She also called for more incentives to get property owners to preserve historic buildings.
“We lack incentives sufficient to motivate any but the most preservation-minded owners to" consider adaptive reuse of old buildings as an attractive option, she said.
Another speaker, Bruce Cameron, recommended exploring the possibility of transferable development rights in the EIR.
Transferable development rights would allow developers to buy the rights to build up from those who own historical buildings. The money would fund the preservation of the historical buildings in exchange for the right to build taller buildings on other properties.
With between 60 and 70 people attending Thursday's meeting, the subdued tone of the conversation was a stark contrast to May 6 public forum about the Specific Plan hosted by the City at the same venue.
That meeting, attended by some 300 people, became confrontational when speakers leveled attacks at City planners and developers who hope to build hotels along Ocean Avenue that range from 195 feet to more than 300 feet.
Thursday's meeting was the first public forum on the Specific Plan after the City Council voted in August not to include the possibility of taller height limits in the Plan's EIR. ("Santa Monica Won't Study Additional Height in Downtown Plan Environmental Review," August 14)
Still, Thursday's meeting was not without dramatic rhetoric. One speaker accused City Hall of making a “Faustian bargain” with developers in order to shore up tax revenue. Others lamented the loss of the “sleepy beach town” of their youth.
Since the EIR process -- which requires staff to look at the Plan's potential impacts on air quality, traffic, climate change and even light and shadow -- is ongoing, residents can submit their comments and suggestions for the environmental study to firstname.lastname@example.org by October 21.
According to City staff, a draft report should be ready by January 2014, when a new round of public comment will begin.
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