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OPINION -- The Planning Commission Should Hit Pause on Pico Boulevard Changes

By Oscar de la Torre

The Pico Neighborhood continues to be under attack by pro-gentrification forces within Santa Monica City Hall.

On Wednesday, the Planning Commission will take up proposed zoning rules intended to protect the character and scale of the Pico Neighborhood that have now been weaponized against us.

The Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA) is demanding a pause on any approval of these recommendations until an authentic, community-led public process with adequate resident participation takes place.

The PNA Board of Directors recognized that the facilitation process used by City planners was flawed because they purposely focused their discussions on “Uses.”

As a result, staff ignored the request to look into the possibility of changing the zoning designation from Mixed Use Boulevard Low (MUBL) to Neighborhood Commercial (NC), which is what residents originally called for.

In November of 2018, the PNA Board of Directors officially withdrew from the City’s “community engagement” process for Pico Boulevard planning because we did not want to give credibility to a rigged process guided to predetermined outcomes.

The same people that hide behind words like “Pico Wellbeing” or “affordable housing” are working with City planners to push policies that result in the loss of many existing small businesses.

These will be replaced with upscale businesses that will not cater to the diverse demographic of our neighborhood but will drive up rents and result in the displacement of many families.

Clearly, this is a City-run pro-gentrification project under the guise of a “public process” that intends to push out what the City considers “undesirable businesses and residents.”

Meanwhile, the valid concerns of long-term residents who feel “this isn’t for us” will continue to be exacerbated.

Yet, the City planners are unwavering in their recommendations.

In fact, they have been trying to push these recommendations through since March but lack of adequate resident participation has forced them to go back to the community to engage more residents.

At the May 5 Planning Commission meeting, residents spoke out against the lack of adequate public process and staff's zoning recommendations.

Housing Commissioner Michael Soloff brught up a recent study highlighting the direct relationship between large scale restaurants, bars and nightclubs and gentrification.

This report clearly demonstrates the impact that staff's recommendations will have in our neighborhood.

After public comment, the Planning Commission decided to continue the item to ensure that a presentation was made to the neighborhood association Friends of Sunset Park (FOSP) because they had not been engaged during the public process.

At the June neighborhood association meetings, members and residents of the impacted neighborhoods voiced concerns with the recommendations.

Both of the official neighborhood associations that represent residents directly impacted by the proposed zoning rules opposed City staff’s recommendations.

Staff needs to listen to the reasonable request made by the PNA to continue discussion and engage more residents in the process.

Oscar de la Torre is chair of the Pico Neighborhood Association

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