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Council Expands Uses, Heightens Security in Promenade Area

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By Jorge Casuso

July 31, 2023 -- Santa Monica's struggling Third Street Promenade got a much-needed boost last week that should have visitors dancing in restaurants and enjoying movies on a rooftop.

Those are among the activities allowed under an Interim Zoning Ordinance (IZO) the City Council unanimously approved on Tuesday along with a $10.6 million budget for Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. (DTSM).

The ordinance is expected to "invigorate arts and entertainment activities and promote new business opportunities" on the Promenade and Santa Monica Place, City officials said.

The IZO is "focused on encouraging a more active nightlife and entertainment presence and provides a streamlined review path for arts and entertainment uses," officials said.

The Council approval comes as Downtown officials complete a report expected to show that nearly one-third of the spaces on the popular walk street are empty.

The Promenade was already grappling with stiff competition from internet sales when it was dealt a major blow by the coronavirus shutdown in 2020 and the riots in 2021 that saw widespread looting Downtown.

In addition, there has been a growing chorus of calls for the City to crack down on rising crime and an entrenched homeless problem that is hurting Downtown businesses and making visitors feel unsafe.

To address the problem, the Council approved a $1.7 million contract with the security firm Covered 6 that will add another layer of private security to work with police.

A supervisor and officers in marked patrol vehicles and on foot will provide day and night security on the Promenade and surrounding streets, as well as in the public parking structures.

All are equipped with body cameras and, with the exception of the shift supervisor, the officers will be unarmed.

The security contract and zoning changes were approved last Tuesday as part of a larger package that included DTSM's fiscal year budget, which will total $10,629,733, and the public-private agency's work plan.

DTSM and City officials hope to fill empty storefronts by relaxing zoning restrictions on dancing, arcade games and amplified music requirements for restaurants that provide entertainment in the Promenade area and Santa Monica Place.

The zoning ordinance also makes it easier to obtain a permit for uses "such as outdoor rooftop, cultural facilities, instructional services, commercial entertainment/recreation and convenience markets," officials said.

Outdoor rooftop commercial uses allowed on City-owned public parking structures include rooftop cinemas, community assemblies, community gardens and small/large scale entertainment and recreation facilities.

In addition, the ordinance allows the Community Development Director "to consider commercial uses that are not clearly defined in the Zoning Code, providing flexibility for unique business proposals."

Under the ordinance, Temporary Use Permits would be extended from 45 days to six months.

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