SANTA MONICA—The Santa Monica City Council unanimously approved the Downtown Community Plan (DCP) at the Council meeting on Tuesday, July 25, according to a press release from Constance Farrell, Public Information Officer for the city of Santa Monica. The DCP, which has been in the works for six years, will guide the future of downtown Santa Monica for the next 15 years.
The six-year-long planning process involved thousands of community members at workshops, walking tours, public hearings, and on social media, the press release indicated. Meetings were held with numerous organizations, boards, and commissions in Santa Monica, with three public hearings before the City Council and six before the Planning Commission.
“A long and thoughtful process with the most intensive public engagement program we’ve ever led got us to this place,” said Mayor Ted Winterer. “The Downtown community is anchored by our shared priorities of historic preservation, public open space, transportation choice, pedestrian-inviting design, and environmental leadership. The Plan exemplifies Santa Monica’s commitment to tackling major regional issues of housing availability and affordability and the paradigm shift from car-centric to multi-modal living.”
The DCP maintains downtown Santa Monica’s roles as a thriving neighborhood, public gathering space, visitor destination, and business district. The plan sets out priorities established by the community through public outreach, which are reflected in the following key elements:
- Housing is strongly encouraged to accommodate residents of all incomes, family situations, and stages of life;
- New and enhanced public spaces will add to Downtown’s attractiveness;
- Expanded cultural, entertainment, and artistic offerings will add to Downtown’s identity as the city’s cultural heart;
- Preservation of historic and character-defining buildings will help maintain Downtown’s identity as new infill projects take shape;
- Downtown’s economic engine will be supported to maintain services and resident’s high quality of life;
- Improvements to the mobility network will make getting around town efficient and safe; and
- A diverse range of new uses, activities, and preferred services will support the emerging Downtown neighborhood and promote social connectedness and community wellbeing.
“A great deal of gratitude is owed to individuals and organizations across this community who have been deeply involved in the DCP for years now,” said Planning and Community Development Director David Martin. “It was important to work through each element of the plan and while this phase of work has concluded, there is a lot of work ahead to implement this blue print for Downtown. We hope people will continue to stay engaged.”
The DCP utilizes a streamlined administrative approval process for projects that meet set standards for size, height, and design. It includes the most ambitious affordable housing requirements and incentives in the state, with 20 to 30 percent of new units designated as affordable for low-income residents. The City Council voted 4-3 to approve this designation. Pending projects with applications filed before November 16, 2016 will be subject to a 20 percent affordable housing requirement.
“Given the diversity of views in the community, the unanimous vote by the City Council reflects both consensus-building and compromise. The DCP adopted by the Council strives for a balance that offers a potential model for other cities for tackling the growing crisis of housing affordability in Southern California,” said City Manager Rick Cole. “The Council is committed to pursuing Santa Monica’s values of inclusion, equity and environmental sustainability to maintain and enhance our historic Downtown.”
Santa Monica joins progressive cities around the country in eliminating parking minimums in downtown, which allows the market to decide whether a builder will incorporate on-site parking, and on what level. The plan intends to encourage shared parking and alternative modes of transportation, discouraging congestion from required minimum levels of additional parking construction for every new building.
According to the press release, the DCP also seeks to attract new cultural institutions, like museums, to contribute to the cultural and entertainment offerings, along with ways to bring people together through festivals and events. The plan prioritizes public spaces such as plazas, parklets, courtyards, and a dog park, and focuses on the pedestrian population by calling for improved streetscapes and sidewalks. Permanent and temporary public art such as murals, sculptures, and other creative mediums are encouraged. New protections and incentives for historic resources are created through the plan, with a focus on the Historic Core that spans 2nd Street, 4th Street, and the Third Street Promenade. In addition, the DCP supports smaller, local businesses.
The new plan includes clear limits for three Established Large Sites, which can have a height of up to 130 feet and site-specific Floor Area Ratios (FAR). The sites will go through a rigorous public process. A future “Gateway Master Plan” will evaluate decking over the 10 Freeway, to add green space, eliminate traffic bottlenecks at freeway exits, and direct parking away from the core of the downtown area.
Over the next few years, a series of actions will be carried out to implement the DCP, including improvements for pedestrians, bicyclists, streets, and open space. A report on housing production will be presented to the City Council every six months, to monitor the production in downtown Santa Monica.
The DCP is guided by the 2010 Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE), which envisions a thriving, multipurpose urban environment that provides a variety of opportunities. The LUCE’s vision included an energetic downtown for residents, employees, and visitors, integrating the Expo Line and preserving the unique characteristics of the district. The LUCE also called for better linkages to the city’s attractions, such as the Civic Center and the beachfront, but deferred implementation of the vision and the standards to create a specific plan for downtown, the press release indicated.
Downtown Santa Monica is home to about 4,500 residents, 20,000 employees, and 7 million tourists every year. The downtown area, which is about 229 acres or 40 blocks, makes up 4 percent of Santa Monica, and almost 34 percent of all sales tax generated in the city comes from downtown. Residents reported in a survey that they visit downtown at least one time per week on average. In the next 15 years, about 21 percent of downtown has the potential to change.