By Jared Brey.
Over the last several decades, officials in Santa Monica — a sunny, wealthy, liberal city in the southwest corner of Los Angeles County — have found pride in being at the forefront of progressive planning, environmental and transportation policy. The city has had a sustainability plan in place since 1994, and in 2011, officials launched an effort to improve transit options with a goal of “no net new trips” in automobiles. Last month, after six years of work and no shortage of disagreement between pro-growth and slow-growth Santa Monicans, the City Council adopted a new plan for the downtown that aims to keep the city on the vanguard.
The new Downtown Community Plan addresses the growing affordability crisis and an overreliance on cars — issues of concern to planning officials in more and more cities around the U.S. In a unanimous vote, the City Council voted to remove parking requirements altogether for new developments coming into the downtown area. And in a split 4-3 vote, the council opted to set some of the highest mandatory inclusionary housing targets in the country, requiring up to 30 percent of units in most new projects be set aside for low-income tenants.
“We went through an extended process and heard a lot from two sides of the political spectrum, those who don’t want us to really build anything more in Santa Monica and those who felt that, ‘No, you’re not being nearly ambitious enough,’” says Santa Monica Mayor Ted Winterer. “I think that we did a really good job of finding a balance between the two poles we hear from most frequently, in terms of the public discourse, which should satisfy the large majority, which is pretty content with the direction the city is going.”
Santa Monica has made strides recently in diversifying its transportation network, with its own bus line and bike-share network and an extension of the LA Metro Expo Line light-rail line that opened last year. The council’s decision to remove parking requirements for new development downtown is partly an effort to continue that trend. City Manager Rick Cole says that the council is made up of a group of dedicated “Shoupistas” — a reference to Donald Shoup, who argues in his book “The High Cost of Free Parking” that excessive parking supply in American cities subsidizes car ownership and creates an overdependence on automobiles.