AIA/LA’s take on L.U.V.E.

By Mario Fonda-Bonardi, AIA, Ron Goldman, FAIA, Thane H. Roberts, AIA, Robert H. Taylor, AIA , and architects Dan Jansenson, and Sam Tolkin

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of AIA Los Angeles. 

Three weeks ago AIA|LA held an invited roundtable discussion to “craft a narrative to share the perspective of the architectural and design profession on this very important matter,”- the L.U.VE. Initiative on Santa Monica’s November ballot. This initiative is similar to one that is currently being considered for the City of Los Angeles. The initiative limits projects to the current “by right” Tier 1 limit of the code that is usually set at 32’ but which varies based on specific zones (eg: coastal zone, Downtown, etc.). The L.U.V.E Initiative (Land Use Voter Empowerment) is a reaction to the rampant development in Santa Monica, most of which exceeds the City’s current zoning codes. These projects go through an administrative approval processes and are voted upon by the City Council exchanging paltry “Community Benefits” for substantially increasing height and density. Most of these projects are approved against the will of the residential community despite the offered benefits.

The three parties that were invited in support of L.U.V.E. included two architects and a civil engineer, all of whom had broad range of institutional, commercial and residential experience. One of the participants is also a Santa Monica Planning Commissioner and another is a Fellow of the AIA with considerable development experience. The last one is the co-author of the initiative and was only invited to participate after his absence from the invitee list was brought to AIA/LA’s attention.

Twenty-three other participants Including nine architects along with developers’ attorneys, their consultants and a few journalists completed the group. From the outset, it became clear that most of this group had already decided to oppose the L.U.V.E. Initiative. Although this did not come as a surprise what did was that the AIA/LA board had already taken a position against the initiative prior to the round table discussion. None of those who came to speak in favor of the Initiative were made aware of this fact beforehand.

The AIA/LA subsequently published a letter from the “communications director” of one of the developer’s architects with the following misrepresentations and debatable points.

1) “The L.U.V.E. Initiative … creating a new system which would be logically chaotic and economically ill-advised.”

FACT: The initiative is completely consistent with Santa Monica’s zoning code and simply changes the approval of large projects from the council to the residents. So it is not “logically inconsistent and economically ill-advised.” Public elections will be unnecessary if developers and architects stay within the “by right” code or build on the 77 housing sites identified in the general plan that allow substantive increases beyond the administrative code.

2) “Was the initiative structured after extensive surveying of residents and were residents aware of the many restrictions in place of R1 & R2 zones?”

FACT: Yes it was. In survey after survey, residents in R1 and R2 zones, among others, have consistently rated development and traffic as their major problems. L.U.V.E. has the endorsement of six of the seven Santa Monica City neighborhood councils all of which are knowledgeable about the issue and are backing the initiative only after years of total frustration at not being heard during the six years since adoption of the General Plan.

3) “The 32 foot height cap supposedly allows buildings of 3 stories – an excellent example of oversimplification and flaws which the initiative is fraught with … leaving insufficient room living, working, or even standing, or taking advantage of daylighting, a key sustainable approach.”

FACT: The present code allows 3-stories with the inclusion of affordable housing and is feasible with 8’-0” ceiling heights using efficient framing systems and soffits for mechanical services. This would be possible even if zones that require 12 ft. floor-to-floor height at the ground floor a along the boulevards.” In either case, 2nd & 3rd stories with 8 ft ceilings are totally doable.

4) “Let’s continue to create a city that pushes boundaries, builds market rate housing to alleviate our share of the housing shortage while funding a high percentage of inclusionary housing.”

FACT: Santa Monica is primarily a one and two-story community along its boulevards and downtown as well as in its residential neighborhood character. Staying within a 32 ft limit would still allow 20-25 million sq ft of development, 20-25,000 apartments, and house forty to fifty-thousand new residents. These new residents could add 50% to the City’s current population of 92,000 and is likely more than would ever be needed. This approach would be a better solution to inclusionary housing than adding 10-20% affordable units to projects that in some case are twice the height of what is currently allowed.

As long-time members of the AIA LA Chapter, we are disappointed with the board for only listening to the architects who have a vested interest in the defeat of this Initiative. Their choice to put their own self-interest ahead of those that will be negatively affected by their decision is shameful. They are in essence doing the work of these developers who, with their money and lack of vision, are ruining the quality and sustainability of Santa Monica’s environment. As you must know, one of these architects, who is responsible for many of the out of scale projects, had their in-house communications director write the ill-informed article on behalf of the AIA/LA. and then sign it as a “resident of Santa Monica.” We would have expected better from a professional organization with a duty to promote the public welfare.

L.U.V.E. is not perfect, but it is a lot better than what we currently have.

Our profession and the public deserve a better and balanced discourse, rather than the narrow, if not downright deceitful, perspective of a handful of self-serving Santa Monica architects!!! There are two sides to these issues and we would hope national, state, and local AIA chapters would always study and present both sides of issues along with reasoned conclusions. We owe it to ourselves as architects as well as to the public we strive to serve.

AIA|LA received two columns on Santa Monica's L.U.V.E. initiative. To read the viewpoint opposing the initiative, visit this page.
Last updated: 18-Jul-2016 03:16 PM
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