The LookOut Letters to the Editor
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Overdevelopment and "Headed for Trouble"

December 13, 2004

Dear Editor,

I wanted to call public attention to item 8-C on Tuesday’s City Council agenda. (Also “WHAT I SAY: Matters of Height,” December 13, 2004)

City staff is requesting that City Council disregard Santa Monica’s General Plan and permit eight-story towers on the civic center site. I would hope that it is self-evident that over development by municipalities it just as harmful as over development by private property owners.

I do not think the General Plan could more strongly state the desire to keep Santa Monica a low building height community. I suspect that I am not the only resident who enjoys sunlight and fresh air. If we liked the architecture of Westwood and Century City, we would be living there, not here.

Irregardless of one’s opinion on 8-story towers, I would hope City Council would be concerned with process. It is unimaginable that a decision as important, as to whether or not to allow a huge variance on the General Plan, would be conducted without consideration by either the Architectural Review Board or the Planning Commission, and the important feedback from their public hearings.

It appears that City staff has once again decided to dispense with the public process for expediency. I would hope that in the very least, City Council would direct City staff to go through an appropriate public process if they want a variance on the General Plan.

Sincerely,

Jeff Segal
Santa Monica


December 12, 2004

Dear Editor,

What's the rollerblading on the Promenade deal about? (“Rollerblading Still a Crime on Promenade,” November 24)

Well if one steps back from all of the personal animosities, who won what and my side and your side, there are two areas you can look at and balance.

First is the issue of personal behaviors and personal choices. How does an individual choose to behave in a public space and the level of intrusion that government can have in creating an outright ban of an activity.

If there is clear evidence that a behavior causes harm more often than other activities, then the government can intervene. Like shooting a gun in a park -- within city limits -- for target practice even though having a gun is protected by the Constitution.

But with rollerblading, which is an activity that requires no license and that thousands of people use for recreation and transportation, what is the statistical evidence that actual harm has been caused?

If the evidence is anecdotal, politically biased, or simply based on a discomfort with people who behave differently, it then seems that government should be constrained from outright banning, but perhaps consider lesser forms of regulations, like speed limits for all people -- those running, pushing strollers, whatever.

When the government can outright ban personal behaviors based on the will of the moment, we are all headed into trouble.

Secondly, and I feel more importantly, is a bigger question that effects how we are going to live and transport ourselves around in the future. I believe this is what drives the passion behind the issue for the people who do not like to see restrictions placed on alternative, energy saving forms of transportation.

There is the slippery slope, or the snowballing effect. Once an activity is placed into the category of "UNWANTED BY SOCIETY" or "UNFIT BEHAVIOR FOR POLITE COMPANY" there is the tendency to continue to classify and further discourage its acceptance, based on the previous judgment, without looking at current relevant facts -- even though the original judgment was made without firm footing in evidence.

It is therefore important to resist all such initial classifications, especially when considered without clear evidence.

We are going to run out of oil. Yet, we are constraining and imperiling our lives by spending billions of dollars designing most of the public space in our cities so that giant, resource-inefficient chunks of metal can propel people at high velocities, dangerously through our midst.

We strap people, cocoon-like in isolation, to live out fantasies of powerful acceleration, because they feel trapped by cities that are not built to a human scale where they feel safe to use human levels of transportation. We keep people from experiencing community by not creating a city where people move from one place to another in shared companionship.

If we had the view of a city that moved people at a human scale, we would find ways to integrate all these forms of transportation, based on real statistical models. But, since we live on a world dominated by the personal automobile, it is easy to think of every other form of transportation as unimportant or frivolous, so why should we care what precedents we set. Why should we be concerned about the feelings of those who passionately believe in those forms of transportation.

But with almost 1,300 US soldiers killed in Iraq, up to 10,000 wounded (and perhaps a many as 100,000 Iraqis dead, all to gain control of an area whose resource is oil -- perhaps it is delusional to think that we can avoid dealing with a future where we will all be riding bicycles, rollerblading, and walking more.

People who seek proactive solutions and who seek better, cleaner, community enhancing visions of life in the city are right to challenge outright government bans of behaviors that may lead to these goals, because it is these behaviors that are the models for our future transportation needs.

We need to get beyond petty politics and the blinders of our current addiction to oil and egocentric, inefficient transportation, and investigate a future that builds community at a human scale.

Banning any activity, when mere regulation would suffice, is a poorly conceived solution and does not serve the community's future.

Sincerely,

Ned Landin

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