Don’t blame Santa Monica shoppers
The Times editorial “It’s a two-way street” correctly pointed out earlier this month that traffic in areas of Mar Vista and West L.A. has been adversely affected by Santa Monica’s nonstop development. Indeed, all one has to do is watch the influx of massive amounts of traffic coming into Santa Monica in the morning and the massive exodus in the early evening.
However, the editorial incorrectly suggested that Santa Monica causes this traffic by seeking high-end retail development for tax revenue while leaving the burden of providing housing to the City of Los Angeles. In fact, compared to other kinds of development, Santa Monica’s retail space has stayed fairly stagnant in square footage over the last 10 years. Much of the development in Santa Monica has been in the form of office buildings, film studios, luxury hotels and an extraordinary increase in housing in a city that is already bursting at the seems.
When it comes to providing housing, the reality is that Santa Monica has been doing far more than its fair share. Santa Monica is vastly more dense in population and housing units than our larger neighbor. Los Angeles has about 8,000 residents per square mile, while Santa Monica has more than 10,000. Los Angeles has about 2,900 housing units per square mile, while Santa Monica has twice the amount -- about 5,800. All one has to do to understand Santa Monica’s housing density is take a look at our downtown and find hundreds of newly constructed apartments and condos -- with more under construction. Much of this residential development is being put on land that was formerly used as retail space. The suggestion that Santa Monica is exacerbating Los Angeles’ traffic nightmare by expanding retail space while neglecting housing is simply not accurate.
I find it perplexing that the editorial starts by saying that the traffic problem in West Los Angeles is in part because of Santa Monica’s boom in retail space and then ends by suggesting that the Residents’ Initiative to Fight Traffic, which will be on the November ballot and is designed to curtail retail development, “won’t do much for the adjacent streets of L.A.” The initiative, known as RIFT, is a reaction of the belief that officials in Santa Monica City Hall are completely out of touch with the sentiments of the average resident when it comes to development, growth and traffic. Evidence that RIFT’s supporters are right can be seen by the City Council majority’s recent decision to advance a plan to substantially increase the allowable densities and height limits of new development throughout Santa Monica. It appears that only Councilmen Ken Genser, Kevin McKeown and Bobby Shriver, all of whom voted against the plan, understand that the last thing Santa Monicans desire is bigger and taller developments that produce more and more traffic.
Traffic in and near Santa Monica is not caused by the lack of housing in the city; it is caused by unsustainable commercial growth. To quote Al Jolson, if the RIFT initiative is unsuccessful and the Santa Monica City Council’s plans to substantially increase development in Santa Monica go forward, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
Kelly Olsen is a former Santa Monica City Council member and planning commissioner.
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