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Safety of Santa Monica Streets Could Emerge as New Worry in Plan for Development Downtown

 
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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

May 31, 2017 -- A string of pedestrian fatalities on Santa Monica’s busy streets has prompted new worries about a City plan to allow 3.2 million square feet of new development in an already built-out downtown.

The last draft of the Downtown Community Plan (DCP) goes before the City Planning Commission for a final time tonight. The meeting is in City Council chambers and starts at 6 p.m.

Although the commission is primarily advisory, its members are selected by the City Council and big disagreements between the two are unusual.

The council is scheduled to vote on the plan later this summer.

City officials are promising the new development downtown -- much of it devoted to multi-story apartment complexes -- can be accommodated without ill effects such as worsening gridlock.

Five pedestrian fatalities in as many weeks between March 4 and April 3 have added to worries about additional building ("Pedestrian Killed Crossing Santa Monica Boulevard," April 4, 2017).

The council wants to create the position of a safe-streets “czar” to reign over a sweeping re-design of city streets meant to embrace pedestrians and bicyclists and remove vehicles from car-clogged streets ("Santa Monica City Council Calls for Safe Streets 'Czar,'" May 11, 2017).

The statistics behind the challenge are sobering: Pedestrians and bicyclists account for about two-thirds of all severe injuries and fatalities in traffic accidents on City streets, police reported earlier this month.

Critics of adding more density downtown worry the problem will only get worse if major projects are approved under the proposed plan.

Tricia Crane, a slow growth activist who heads the Northeast Neighbors Association, aired her worried in a letter Monday to the commission.

“At a recent meeting of our neighborhood group, one of our members asked the Santa Monica City Police Officer who was our guest, ‘What do you think is making our streets less safe?’

“The veteran police officer responded with a one-word answer: ‘Density.’ “

The DCP’s goals represent a radical reversal of decades of the sprawl by instead trying to create a downtown that is a hub for apartment dwellers as well as a central commercial district and top tourism destination.

In doing so, the DCP seeks to add 2,500 new apartments downtown in the next 15 to 20 years. With those units the population could double, adding another 3,200 people to downtown’s residential population.

Because downtown is basically built out, the DCP would mostly bulldoze 1970s era buildings of one or two stories (with surface parking lots) and construct and replace them with four-to-five story apartment complexes ("Santa Monica Downtown Plan Seeks to Strike a Compromise, Officials Say, But Some Remain Skeptical," April 13, 2017).

Typically, the apartment building feature commercial uses at the ground floor, and handle space for vehicles by tunneling parking underground.

The plan also could pave the way for a major redevelopment of the Miramar Hotel and two new highrise hotels which would increase pedestrian activity downtown.

Combined, the three projects account for 40 percent of proposed new building downtown. And together the projects rival the biggest developments, in terms of square footage, in the City since the 1970s.

For the DCP to work, the City is banking on people mostly abandoning cars in downtown in favor of alternatives like using Expo Light Rail to commute and buses, bicycles and walking for shorter distances.

The DCP is based on the City’s goal of “no net increase” in evening rush hour traffic. Still, its baseline dates back 15 years, when the City determined about 60,100 vehicles were on City streets between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Thus far, residents are mostly still hopping in their cars, although the City says it is making progress in transforming to a “multimodal” city.

But the DCP also proposes cutting by half the available private parking spaces in new housing developments.

New studio and one-bedroom apartments, which are now allotted one parking spot, are built with a ratio of only half of a parking space.

Apartments with two or more bedrooms get one space. There will also be only one guest space per 15 units.

 


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