June 30, 2011 - From the June, 2011 issue

Mayor Bloom On Santa Monica's Land Use & Circulation Element

The city of Santa Monica enjoys more than idyllic sea-side settings, it also enjoys the perception of being a pace setter for sustainable growth. With both a balanced budget and a Land Use and Circulation Element that gathered stakeholder consensus for the future of planning in the city, Santa Monica is well positioned to protect the components of its prosperity and livabilty well into the future. To address the city's successes and the development projects on the horizon, TPR is pleased to share the following exclusive interview with the city's mayor (and State Assembly candidate), Richard Bloom.

Richard Bloom

Politics in Santa Monica has often mystified our readers involved in planning, development, and architecture. How does the city of Santa Monica engage with developers and community and city planning?

We've come a long way in the 12 years that I've been on the City Council. Development issues were almost exclusively conflict-based in the years leading up to my election. Since that time, we've learned that there are better ways of moving projects forward, and improving them, by engaging the community in dialogue, with lots of views heard and addressed. Another change over the past few years in Santa Monica is that we've adopted a Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) that is very forward-thinking and adopts policies that the community reached collaboratively. It seriously addresses issues of sustainability and those two things that the community gets really exercised about: traffic and parking.

TPR interviewed Santa Monica's outgoing planning director, Eileen Fogarty, two years ago about LUCE. What are some of most significant elements of the adopted LUCE?

The most significant thing that's been agreed to and that other communities will want to take note of is called "no net new P.M. car trips," which is to say that no new development will be allowed unless it contributes to programs that maintain no more than the current citywide level of vehicle miles traveled. In other words, traffic shouldn't get worse with new development. There are a range of methods for reaching that goal. One thing that I insisted on, and that staff didn't resist at all, was that we will periodically review how we're doing and make adjustments as necessary. This isn't something that is philosophy only; it's going to become a reality in the city.

How is citywide consensus achieved in Santa Monica? What speed bumps did LUCE overcome?

Adoption was due to tireless effort on the part of city staff and widespread community involvement. We held meeting after meeting after meeting. We spent a lot of time and city resources meeting with the community-the larger community, those in the development community, who have an obvious interest in this, and those in the residential community, who have been engaged for many years. There was ultimately a big payoff in that the plan is receiving accolades from all quarters. Virtually to a person in the community, when you ask about the qualities we should be looking for in a next planning director, they say we want somebody just like Eileen. Her effort was so extraordinary.

As you noted, Eileen Fogarty is leaving as Santa Monica's City Planning Director. Why is she leaving?

It strikes me, after having paid close attention to the city for the last over 20 years, that a lot of government positions have a life span. Eileen was brought in by Lamont Ewell to lead her department and handle a particular task-the Land Use and Circulation Element. She reached this goal and probably decided that this was a good time to depart as we will now move into crafting the zoning ordinances that will implement the Land Use and Circulation Element. That may be a lengthy, arduous process. The LUCE process had consumed Eileen, and, perhaps, she is looking forward and thinking that there are other things she might want to do with her life.

It seems to be a stressful time for planning directors. Los Angeles, Pasadena, and now Santa Monica have openings. Is it the stress of the economy and city budgets, or is it just the nature of the responsibilities today?

It's probably because there is a lot of work, and that can be overwhelming. Eileen worked tirelessly during her time with the city. It was seven days a week, with frequent lengthy, lengthy days. I'm not saying she was burned out, but it's just a tough job that takes a lot of time and takes a lot out of you.

Given your 12 years on the council and your interest in this area, how does Santa Monica work with its neighboring communities? Traffic congestion, land use, and water, are all connected to the region. How successful have you been at subregional communication and collaboration?

We've been very successful in that. It has been one of the things that I've been focused on, although I wouldn't say since day one. It took a little time for me to figure some of this out. The place where I first focused on it was the issue of homelessness. We were doing a lot of work in Santa Monica, and it was good work, but few other cities were engaged on the issue. It struck me that this was a regional issue and we were not going to end or solve the problem of homelessness in Santa Monica if we were the only ones who were working on it. That led to what I call the regional approach, which is beginning, albeit a decade later, to take hold. In the coming years we're going to see real progress on that issue.

Similarly, when we talk about transportation, we have local issues that we can address locally, but the issue itself is much larger. Santa Monica didn't create all this traffic by itself even though some seek to blame the region's traffic on us. The reality is more complicated. Nearly everyone wants to drive a car, and we all continue to contribute to the problem and then blame others for the horrible traffic. Until we, as individuals, as communities and as part of a regional system of transportation, start thinking about the issue globally, we won't make much progress. That's why Santa Monica is a good petri dish: we have the resources to try out new ideas. So, for example, we'll do some good in Santa Monica with our no-net-new-car-trip philosophy, new emphasis on being a bike-friendly city and expanding public transit. But, ideas like that have to take hold regionally to have a dramatic impact on traffic in the larger area.

In interviews we've done with both the new planning director of Pasadena and Cal Poly Dean Mike Woo, a former L.A. councilman, it has been noted that the city of Los Angeles has seem to abandoned the principals of good planning. The mantra appears to be all about generating jobs by expediting development. Is that the tone and tenor of planning in Santa Monica? Is it all about the economy?

When I think about development, one of the things I think about is the jobs that are generated and the economic boost that it brings to the community. That economic success allows cities like Santa Monica to do good things for the community. It all works well together.

They've made a decision that between good planning and economic development-economic development trumps planning, and expediting supersedes planning. I don't think it has to. I don't think that it should. They should go hand in hand, and there is no reason why they can't.

In fairness, Santa Monica is viewed as much more NIMBYish than the city of Los Angeles, but you still seem to have projects going through the process.

Every community is different. I won't take issue with your perception of Santa Monica, but Los Angeles has its own problems. Los Angeles has an unwieldy bureaucracy that makes it very, very difficult to implement real planning, like the kind of planning principles that are contained in Santa Monica's LUCE. If Los Angeles were implanting these principles, for example, at the corner or Centinela and Olympic, where a big medical office project has been proposed, there probably would have been some kind of consensus over a project by now. Instead, that whole project just ran off the rails. That's not good for the community, and it's not good for the developer. That is now an underutilized property.

This is a place where I differ with some of my fellow elected officials in Los Angeles. I believe that if we can get to a place where we achieve consensus around projects like that, we are doing a net good for our communities. We get better land use decisions, and we get better land use implementations. That helps lift the community economically. That money pours back into the community. It provides jobs in the community, and it helps fill the city coffers so that a city like Los Angeles doesn't have a $550 million budget deficit, where they have to start offering tax incentives to businesses to come in because otherwise they wouldn't want to be there. The alternative paradigm is conflict aimed at killing projects entirely.

People can take issue with the length of time it takes to get things done in Santa Monica, but most acknowledge that we have improved a lot over the last decade or so. The bottom line is that there is far more predictability in Santa Monica than there is in the city of Los Angeles. Things are getting done, and they are projects that are much more in keeping with the ethos of Santa Monica. That, in turn, has helped us to achieve a "no cuts" budget, whereas virtually everywhere else in the state has budget cuts.

Elaborate on some of the development projects moving through Santa Monica right now. Give us a flavor of the challenges that they face to meet the LUCE goals.


We have $283 million in redevelopment projects that we are taking steps to protect and move forward. The crown jewel among those is a new park that we're building in the Civic Center that's being designed by James Corner's Field Operations. That was approved this month by the City Council. It is going to be a world-class park that will serve more than the local Santa Monica community.

We have a lot of commercial projects that are making their way through our process. Many of them are tied, as the LUCE demands, to the coming Expo light rail line. We are focusing as much development as possible near the future sites of transit stations, trying to make sure that there is an appropriate mix of housing and jobs in those areas. Tomorrow, at our council meeting, we'll be looking at planning for the Bergamot Station area. Staff is asking us to make sure that they are on the right track in moving forward in negotiations as to what will happen there.

What plans does the city have for the Bergamot Station site?

Part of that land is owned by the city and part of it is owned by a private entity. We want to keep it mostly art galleries. There has been a suggestion that a boutique hotel would fit in nicely there. The planning calls for opening it up so that it is easy to walk back and forth to the light rail station, which will be adjacent to the property. It's also adjacent to the Agensys project, a biotech company that we were fortunate enough to hold onto. They needed a new site. It is a green business that we are going to be very happy that we were able to keep.

Across the street from that is a controversial project-a proposal by Hines over 900,000 square feet that will be a mix of housing and commercial space. The height and size of those buildings has been an issue for some because it's the largest proposal in Santa Monica right now, and that raises its profile in the community. The City Council had one look at it and sent it back for more work. We'll be seeing that in the next few months.

There are several projects in the works in the downtown area, including our light rail station, which will be adjacent to Santa Monica Place and will include a new pedestrian promenade directly to the Santa Monica Pier. That will take the incredible assets that we already have and kick everything up a few notches.

There are a number of pieces to the civic center project. There is the park and a childcare center moving forward. There are improvements to the civic auditorium and an agreement with the Nederlander Organization to bringing the auditorium back as a top notch performance space. The arts community is just thrilled with this. The area that is currently a surface parking lot will eventually become open space. We hope to build connections to the high school and create a more permeable campus there. They have a very beautiful old auditorium called Barnum Hall that we'd like to see fixed up eventually, so that we may, in future years, have three highly functioning arts facilities adjacent to one another, all of them pedestrian oriented. It will be within walking distance of the Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica Place, the Third Street Promenade, and the Palisades. It will be a wonderful place, and not in the distant future.

The park is scheduled to be completed by 2012. The light rail will be complete by 2015. The civic auditorium could be up and running in 2012 or 2013. So, a lot of these things will happen in the very near future.

Web Exclusive

How did an intelligent family lawyer like yourself get involved in politics and learn so much about land use?

It's all because my wife and I moved on to the "wrong street" 30 years ago. It's kind of humorous because when my wife and I were married, we were living in West Hollywood. We began looking for a permanent place to live in that area shortly after that. Every weekend we were coming out to Santa Monica and getting a cup of coffee, grabbing the newspaper and reading it on the beach. I finally looked at Robbie and said, "Why aren't we looking at Santa Monica?" Within 12 months we had found a "fixer" we could afford on Cloverfield Blvd..

When we found the house, I remember sitting out on the street with her in the car because we wanted to get a sense for what the street was like. A neighbor came down the street and actually rapped on the car door and said, "Who are you and what are you doing here? We keep an eye on this street. Don't think we didn't notice you." It was pretty funny. We were wondering whether this street would be busy. Even back in 1981, it was a relatively busy thoroughfare. We bought the place and we've put a lot of time and effort into it since. We're still in the same house. We've raised our family there. Our youngest child just graduated from UCSB. Over the years the traffic really has gotten worse.

So, in the late 1980s, after being there for about 10 years, the community was in an uproar. We were on one of the streets that was being hit pretty hard by traffic.

So we helped form a neighborhood group and called a community meeting. My wife and I were at the first meeting. I joined the original board of directors and eventually became the president of Friends of Sunset Park. That was also how I got pulled into being active in the progressive politics of Santa Monica. People who move to Santa Monica, people tell me they moved here because "I like the weather" or "I came for the schools." But just as often you hear, "I really like the politics in Santa Monica. You practice what I believe in." That was very true for my wife and I. So, I was happy to play a small bit piece in the politics of this city.

Now you're contemplating, after 12 years of city service, of running for the legislature? Are you just a glutton for punishment?

I don't think of it as punishment. Aside from my marriage and my family, being involved on the City Council is the single most interesting and fascinating thing in my life. I've really loved it from day one. I'm not saying there haven't been hard days. I wouldn't trade it in for anything... and I've had some good experiences in my life.

The Reapportionment Commission is presently defining the election boundaries for state and federal office holders. With what jurisdictions is Santa Monica likely to be tied to?

The proposal ties us in with Venice, Beverly Hills, and West Hollywood, with whom we share a council of governments that I chair. It takes away much of the Santa Monica Mountains: Calabasas, Agoura, Agoura Hills, and so forth. We are a community of interest with both sides. The biggest loss here is in the Senate district, where some of the Santa Monica Mountains communities have really been pulled away from the rest of the Santa Monica Mountains. That's very disturbing. It happens in the Assembly district too. That's a big loss.

As a Coastal Commissioner and the chair of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, I can say with some authority, that Santa Monica has a natural affinity for those communities that are part of the watershed and are coastal communities. At the same time, we have an identity of interest in many ways with the Beverly Hills and West Hollywood communities. It's a tough call, but I'm comfortable in both places.


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