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City’s Pico Wellbeing Project Distracts From Dealing With the Real Issue of Gentrification

By Maria Loya, Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA)

June 28, 2018 -- The City of Santa Monica’s Pico Wellbeing Project is a public relations strategy that works to distract residents from enacting real protections from the ever growing land speculation and displacement of long term renters in the Pico Neighborhood.

Every year, City officials sponsor a tour for developers and potential investors, taking them throughout our neighborhoods and pointing out the land and properties that are prime for development.

With the cheapest real estate in Santa Monica, the Pico Neighborhood has become a very desirable area for developers and land speculators ("Mapping Shows Pico Neighborhood Ground Zero for Skyrocketing Evictions in Santa Monica," August 27, 2015)

Residents have seen an increase in private investment in our neighborhood while at the same time long term residents feel a real threat to their ability to live and thrive in Santa Monica.

In response to the increase in gentrification and land speculation, the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA) in 2014 launched the "Better Neighborhoods, Same Neighbors Campaign."

As part of our campaign to address the growing land speculation and gentrification that was rapidly changing the character of our neighborhood we advocated to create the Pico Neighborhood Zoning District (PNZD) modeled after the existing Ocean Park Zoning District.

We used the same process that residents from Ocean Park Association (OPA) used to successfully protect the character of their neighborhood. We formed a committee of Pico Neighborhood residents along with residents that had been involved in the creation of the Ocean Park Zoning District to prepare a proposal for a zoning district using the Ocean Park Zoning District as a template.

In the late 1980’s when OPA presented their zoning district proposal to the Planning Department and City Council, it was adopted and implemented within months. The PNA used the same process to create the PNZD as OPA did ("Pico Neighborhood Pushes for Special Zoning District," March 13, 2015). But the response was very different.

The Council voted unanimously in June 2015 to approve the “concept” of the PNZD. The City Council gave the Planning Department 18 months to complete the PNZD and return for Council approval. The purpose of the PNZD was to create protections to preserve the character of neighborhood and create disincentives for land speculation that was resulting in resident displacement.

Three years later and we still don’t have the PNZD. The City Council approved the “concept” of the PNZD with no intention to create it or adopt it.

In January of 2018 the City Council voted to expand the “concept of the PNZD” to a Pico Neighborhood Community Plan which includes addressing housing, jobs, crime and safety, public health, youth and senior services and neighborhood mobility and infrastructure.

The result of this change in concept works to delay the adoption of the much needed PNZD and acts as a distraction to continue to allow development in the Pico Neighborhood that is rapidly changing the character of our neighborhood while allowing the land speculation to accelerate.

Many single family homes have been demolished in the Pico Neighborhood and are being replaced with condos or market rate apartments. This is a deliberate action to leave our neighborhood vulnerable to developers and real estate investment trusts that are gobbling up properties and pushing long term residents out of their homes.

Our neighborhood is being sold to the highest bidder with no consideration to its residents, and the path is being cleared by the current City Council.

It is clear that the Pico Neighborhood is treated differently from other parts of the City. When residents in more affluent neighborhoods demand polices to address their concerns such as the prohibition of monster-mansions, they get real policy change in record time.

Pico Neighborhood residents on the other hand request protections against the destruction of the character of our neighborhood and we get workshops. That is why it is no surprise that the City’s own Wellbeing report states that Pico Neighborhood residents expressed the “lowest life satisfaction” in the city, the least “appreciation” of community experiences and the highest economic worry.

And now the City is launching the Pico Well-being Project which is simply a rebrand of the Pico Neighborhood Community Plan. Let’s face it, the Pico Wellbeing Project is a public relations strategy that is used to both respond to the dismal results from the Wellbeing report but also intends to distract and delay the needed zoning rules outlined within the PNZD.

The City will ask Pico Neighborhood residents to join committees to explore the needs of their neighborhood and come up with ideas to improve their quality of life while allowing the land speculation and displacement to continue.

Although I agree that a multi-prong approach is needed to fully address gentrification and the City Council’s historic social neglect and marginalization of the Pico Neighborhood, the approach to leave the PNZD to the end is a tactic to dilute the significance of establishing zoning rules that will provide real protections from land speculation.

The ironic thing about this process is that many that will participate wholeheartedly in the workshops and committees won’t be living in Santa Monica if the current development trend that has taken a hold of our neighborhood continues.

Long term Pico Neighborhood renters not only feel a sense of housing insecurity, not knowing if they have a future in Santa Monica, but we feel sad that we are losing our neighborhood as we know it.

If the City of Santa Monica is serious about protecting the diversity of our neighborhood and responding the sense of insecurity, the City must first adopt the PNZD that was presented by the PNA and engage Pico residents in addressing any other issues listed as part of the Pico Wellbeing project.

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