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OPINION -- Community, Not Staff, Should Chart Future of Pico Boulevard

By Pico Neighborhood Association Board of Directors

Over the past two decades, the Pico Neighborhood has become a very desirable area for developers and land speculators.

The Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA) and Friends of Sunset Park (FOSP) have been advocating to create the Pico Neighborhood Zoning District (PNZD) to protect the character and scale of the neighborhood.

On Wednesday night, the Planning Commission will discuss what zoning changes to recommend to the City Council to achieve these goals.

What has become very clear is that the zoning tool that representatives from PNA and FOSP advocated for has been weaponized against us to do the exact opposite.

In fact, the zoning rules that are being recommended by the planning staff and the Pico Wellbeing Project will work to destroy the character and scale of our neighborhoods by incentivizing development.

First of all, the recommendation to “Increase Flexibility” and loosen building restrictions to allow greater density and height will undoubtedly increase market pressures and accelerate the displacement of small and locally owned businesses.

Furthermore, the recommendation to expand the width for store fronts from 40 feet to 50 feet will have a direct impact on the scale of the buildings that are being incentivized to be redeveloped.

Lastly, the recommendation to eliminate the 50 seat limitation for restaurants will incentivize large developments without fully taking into account the impact on parking availability and the spill over of parking by patrons into the neighborhood streets.

Large restaurants was a “least preferred” use by the few community voices that participated in the planning process. Yet it has become a favorite of the staff recommendations. They will undoubtedly claim that they have community support for their recommendations.

How does this happen? The City is taking advantage of people’s economic vulnerability to recruit them to advocate against their neighborhood’s interest and their own self interest.

They have provided supporters of the plan with a short term gain through jobs, political appointments or City perks and benefits. The City of Santa Monica has invested public dollars to prop up two parent groups at Virginia Park to act as their booster clubs for their development agenda.

According to former Councilmember Tony Vasquez’s deposition, he admitted back in 2016 that the parent groups at Virginia Avenue were more supportive of development even though at that time they had not taken any position on any development projects.

These same individuals that have been recruited by the City officials are active in advocating for policies that will result in the destruction of our neighborhood’s character and the displacement of long term residents and families from the Pico Neighborhood.

This week the Housing Commission has Pico Neighborhood gentrification on their agenda and, yes you guessed it, the PNA wasn’t even notified about this item.

So the PNA Board of Directors is offering our own recommendations to ensure that our residents' voice is authentically taken into account in planning our neighborhood’s future:

We demand authentic and adequate resident participation and we demand that we hold off on a City Council discussion on implementation of the proposed changes until the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) lawsuit is settled and our community has an uncompromised elected representative on the Council.

We recommend that the community engagement process be community-led not City staff-led as it was in the development of the Pico Neighborhood Community Plan of 1983.

We also recommend that a community discussion on the impact that the changes in the uses on Pico Boulevard will have on height and density.

What impact will these changes have on gentrification and small business displacement? What are the alternatives to the “strategies” that the City has presented?

We advocate for planning that keeps Pico Boulevard whole and feel it is paternalistic to tell the community they can’t consider influencing the western portion of the Boulevard near the ocean when what happens on the western portion of Pico, impacts the entire strip.

Moreover, if larger projects bringing in more revenue are slated for the western portion, we would like to discuss community benefits to impact the less prosperous portions of the boulevard.

Equity is one the City’s stated values and we would like to hear how equity is promoted within the staff recommended changes.

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