Santa Monica High School

Urban sprawl turns into urban stacked

One of Los Angeles County’s goals is to have Transit Oriented Development (TOD). That is development that “includes a mixture of housing, office, retail and/or other commercial development and amenities integrated into a walkable neighborhood and located within a half-mile of quality public transportation.”

While this will be beneficial to some, it may negatively impact others.

There are various large developments along the Expo line, which extends from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica. The term “Manhattanization” has become increasingly popular lately among residents from various neighborhoods who do not want to see high rises built. And even though buildings that are 130-300 feet tall pale in comparison to the high rises of Manhattan, residents are upset. They are upset that the character of their neighborhoods is changing.

Santa Monica city planners released a new Downtown Community Plan in July 2017. It allows for 3.2 million square feet of new development. In addition, the city council voted to allow three separate developments to be up to 130 feet high, rather than the 84 feet that is the current limit. These three projects will total 1.2 million square feet.

The plan also calls for 2,500 multi-family units to be built by 2030. This will increase the population of Santa Monica by several thousands. And even though city planners in Santa Monica are excited about it, a huge share of residents are not.

In the new Downtown Community Plan, the Santa Monica City Council approved a measure eliminating parking minimums for new developments that carry 30% affordable housing. They are telling developers that they do not have to provide any parking for new housing units. This could be a disaster for Santa Monica residents. This was the concession to get developers to achieve an aggressive 30% affordability ratio in new housing developments, by allowing more units and less parking in each development.

Increasing the number of residents, and therefore the number of cars, while not also increasing the amount of parking will create more gridlock in downtown Santa Monica.

Other neighborhoods along the Expo line have experienced a similar phenomenon, where very tall buildings are erected despite the residents’ objections. Near the La Cienega/Jefferson train station, construction for the Cumulus Project is underway.

The Cumulus Project is a 30-story luxury skyscraper with 1,200 housing units and 2,400 parking spaces. This area was not zoned for these heights, but the Los Angeles City Council allowed it to proceed in the effort to add to the housing supply.

Beverly Grossman Palmer, the attorney representing Crenshaw Subway Coalition and Friends of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, said, “The entitlements granted to construct the Cumulus Project fly in the face of sound planning and violate City Charter rules about when the General Plan may be amended.”

The residents want sensible growth and construction, but they see that their local officials ignore their desires in the name of progress.

After the Jefferson station, the Expo line continues into Culver City when there is a $300-million commercial/residential development planned – the Ivy Station. It’s not as aggressive as some others in its housing units, only 200 apartments are being built. There is also a hotel planned along with office space, shops and restaurants.

Oh, yes, and parking.

There will be 1,500 underground parking spaces with 300 of those for Expo line riders. And cycling is encouraged as there will be a bike-sharing program and parking for bicycles. The Ivy Station developer, Tom Wulf, calls this densification Los Angeles maturing, as if urban sprawl was some adolescent notion of freedom and single-family homes just childish things that should be put away. He admits there are “growing pains” associated with transforming the city into a denser urban environment.

Further west along the Expo line is the Carmel project at Pico Boulevard and Sepulveda – a mixed use development with 595 multi-family units and 15,000 square feet of planned office space. Construction is currently underway on this 13-story tower despite neighbors’ complaints.

The complaints are primarily around how much neighborhood traffic will increase. Those complaints are countered by city officials with the fact that the Carmel project is located across from an Expo line station, implying that access to public transportation will limit the ownership and use of cars. The builders understand that is untrue as they are including a 1,000-space underground parking lot.

Next stop – the Bundy station. And yes, another large development, the Martin Expo Town Center. The planned apartment building will be seven stories tall and have 619 condos or apartments. The office tower will be ten stories tall with over 1,000 parking spaces. Between the Carmel project and the Martin Tower project 2,000 new parking spaces are being added to one of the heaviest traffic areas in the city. And then we’re back to Santa Monica.

Individually each of these developments can be seen as a way to provide additional housing, some of it even affordable. While that is an admirable goal, it should be noted that people who already live in these areas and experience traffic, congestion and lack of parking, may feel that densifying the Westside along the Expo line isn’t a positive for them. Maybe they’re just not ready to mature.