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Back to the Future as Santa Monica Holds on Its Past
By Jorge Casuso
December 30, 2019 -- In 2019, Santa Monica began plotting the future of its most famous street and protected two clusters of homes by designating them historic districts.
It also wrestled with the role of buses, airplanes, scooters and bikes in a beach city that prides itself on embracing alternative forms of transportation.
Reimagining the Promenade
Last month, the City Council decided Santa Monica's world renown Third Street Promenade needs to be torn up and "reimagined" after three decades of coasting on its success ("Santa Monica Is Reimagining The Promenade Three Decades After It Was Launched," November 4, 2019).
The "Promenade 3.0" plan unanimously backed by the Council not only calls for major capital improvements but zoning changes to allow new uses and programs and events to enliven the public space.
But City officials cautioned it will take much more than money to make it work ("'Bold' Plan to Transform the Promenade Gets Go-Ahead from Council," November 7, 2019).
The move comes after Santa Monica's Downtown, fueled by the Promenade, continued to thrive, generating more than 29 million visits.
But Downtown officials say its success is being threatened by neighboring venues and online shopping ("Downtown Santa Monica Thriving But Faces Challenges, Officials Say," September 3, 2019).
If implemented, the proposed plan would be the street's first major overhaul since it was closed to traffic, re-designed and rechristened the Promenade in September 1989.
Holding on to the Past
It took a quarter century to designate Santa Monica's first three historic districts. Last year, the Council added another two.
In January, the Council designated a small smattering of modest century old homes in the Mid City neighborhood as a historic district 30 years after it was first proposed ("Council Approves Santa Monica's Fourth Historic District," January 23, 2019).
Six months later, the Council designated a cluster of early 20th Century buildings in Ocean Park as the beach city's fifth historic district ("City Council Designates Fifth Historic District, Second in Six Months," July 25, 2019).
The fight to protect local history wasn't restricted to buildings.
In May, a stretch of Santa Monica Beach once frequented by black Angelenos took a step closer to landing a spot on the National Register of Historic Places ("National Designation for Historic Black Beach Takes Major Step Forward," May 28, 2019).
The California State Historical Resources Commission (SHRC) voted unanimously to recommend that the state's preservation officer move forward with listing the Bay Street Historic District, which was once derogatorily known as “The Inkwell.”
In addition, a century old sycamore tree was at the center of a fight to retain its landmark status.
In May, the Council upheld an appeal by the family that owns the property, reversing the Landmarks Commission's decision last year to designate the tree a historic landmark.
The family agreed to ensure that the tree remained standing for two years while the Council approved an ordinance to help determine which trees on private property would be protected ("Old Sycamore Triggers Citywide Tree Ordinance," May 15, 2019).
But as of last month, the family had refused to sign the deed restriction, placing the tree in jeopardy ("Councilmember Seeks Public's Help in Saving Sycamore," November 21, 2019).
Scooters, Airplanes, Buses and Bikes
As e-scooters continued to ride a wave of success last year, buses and traditional bikes struggled to survive.
A report released by the City last month found that scooters have become a common way to get around under a 16-month pilot program extended by the Council ("EXTRA -- E-Scooters Get Mixed Results as City's 16-Month Pilot Program Nears End," November 5, 2019).
But the 2,673,819 trips taken on "shared-mobility devices," which also include e-bikes, not only replaced those that would have been made in cars, but to an almost equal extent those made on foot or on private scooters and bikes.
In fact, the success of the privately operated e-bikes and scooters -- by far the most expensive way to get around -- threatened the future of Santa Monica's Breeze bike share program ("Santa Monica's Breeze Bike Share Up in the Air," November 14, 2019).
Meanwhile, ridership on Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus (BBB) continued its downward slide ("Big Blue Bus Continues to Lose Riders," November 21, 2019).
Transit officials boosted efforts to counter the loss -- largely due to the arrival of the Expo train line in 2015 -- by improving service and offering mobile options ("Santa Monica to Study Creating Two Bus-Only Lanes," December 16, 2019).
In November, aviation activists won a rare victory when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) found the City mishandled loans to its airport ("FAA Finds Santa Monica Mishandled Airport Loans," December 2," 2019).
The activists argued the City has been financially "squeezing" airport tenants and users as it prepares to shutter the century old airport at the end of 2028.
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