Thinking Small and Other Big Planning Thoughts

Aired 7.25.2015 on public radio KBU.FM, and streamed everywhere:

Some thoughts on the current state of planning, bad and good.

First, the bad. Perhaps one of the most oft used clichés of planners, penned by Daniel Burnham, a famed Chicago architect, is “make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men’s blood.”

And the bigger, the better, the flashier the more desirable, for these are the projects that attract the media, especially when served up at well catered press conferences, and dominate the design buzz.

Architecture schools certainly seem to like the showy designs; they bedazzle the star struck students and lend the fawning faculties a false feeling of being au courant, especially if they can cozy up to a celebrity architect.

But frankly, historically, few of these conceits tend to be built, and those that are, these days in Asia and the Mideast, appear corrupted by their coarse commercialism. However, massive and seemingly magnificent, like dinosaurs, I feel; they are doomed to die.

I haven’t been to Dubai yet, but in the studied, slick photos, its overt development looks soulless. And I found projects in an emerging Asia, such as Shanghai’s vaunted Pudong, off putting.

In the west these grand schemes have tended to fall by the wayside, humbled buy hubris and bungling bureaucracies.

Here, these ignominious traits I feel actually serve the public good, and prompts some positive planning news.

I am talking of the increasing interest in human scale design, low tech and low cost solutions: how they serve the every day user, and make cities more livable.

Be they a response to the reduced circumstance of the 21st century, at least for us 99 per centers, or out of the frustration with the current convoluted planning process, community groups appear to be taking more control over their immediate environments.

And so we are seeing parklets popping up on sidewalks, makeshift [plazas carved out of street corners, bike paths elbowing traffic lanes, pedestrians getting the right of ways –generating in once dormant downtowns and elsewhere that long sought sense of place. Hard to define, you know it when you are there.

This desirable urban amenity is explored and encouraged in two books, “How to Study Public Life,” by Jan Gehl and Birgitte Svarre, details the ideas, opportunities, and challenges, of this bottoms up planning effort in which the authors have been very much involved , Gehl in particular, a sort of Johnny Appleseed of the common sense planning school.

“Tactical Urbanism” by Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia , also reviews the history of the planning effort, and adds a wealth of implementation strategies. Both books are well recommended to one and all challenged by this very street wise, humanistic initiative.

I’m Sam Hall Kaplan, and this is the city observed, on 97.5 KBU and radiomalibu.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Public Safety Succumbs to Parking and Politics

Aired July 18, KBU.FM. More Local Concerns

Why do Malibu residents find City Hall so exasperating?

Here it is, several weeks into the Summer, and Grasswood Avenue on Point Dume is very much a parking lot on beach beckoning days, impassable for emergency vehicles, to the consternation of first responders, and difficult for residents.

It has been several months since a gaggle of Grasswood residents went before the city’s Public Safety Commission, asking that something, anything, be done. The item was duly placed on its agenda; the commission took testimony –noting that it was the largest turnout in memory –and directed the city to come up with several alternatives.

The city came back with a proposal to stripe the street to allow for through traffic, confining parking to the edges where possible. It was approved. The residents placated.

Then came the poison pill. Heeding the concerns of ever-cautious councilperson Laura Rosenthal, the city manager, Jim Thorsen, said that before implementing the improvement, a consenting petition was needed from a majority of the street’s residents. For a public safety measure? That already was unanimously approved?

Some 20 years ago when riding a bike to the Pt. Dume elementary school a students was almost killed by a speeding car at Fernhill and Sea Ranch Way. I recall it took a week or so to get a stop sign erected at the intersection. Other public safety initiatives also have not required a consensus. Indeed, the city’s charter is prefaced by the paramount concern for the “health, safety and welfare” of residents.

Rosenthal had raised the concern that the parking improvements would provoke the wrath of a contentious Coastal Commission who embraces the parking as an enhancement to beach access. However, its establishing statue, Coastal Act, Section 30210, clearly states “maximum access shall be provided consistent with public safety needs.”

It was suggested that the parking constraints should nevertheless be implemented, at least for the Summer, and then weigh the reaction, if any. But City Hall prevailed.

And so a conscientious resident subsequently hosted a meeting to air the issue and garner signatures. The turnout was decent, about two dozen. Some signed, some balked, and some talked, and talked.

The question of whether enough signatures were gathered, and what indeed constitutes enough, was not made clear by the city. The city manager has not answered several queries.

Meanwhile, it has been four months since the residents went before the Public Safety Commission, two months since the constraints were approved, several weeks since the community gathering, and the parking problem on Grasswood persists.

So much for the prime principle of democratic institutions, that they deliver results. It is no wonder that the Malibu City Council meetings are becoming more and more contentious.

This is a slightly edited commentary was aired on 97.5 KBU on July 18.

 

 

 

 

Planning Concerns Close to Home

Aired July 11, 2015

Some reflections on a Malibu Planning Commission hearing I attended this week.

It was the latest of several I have recently witnessed at City Hall concerning a host of planning issues confronting Malibu. For a small city of about 13,000 it does generate considerable controversy and discontent, giving some weight to the adage, the smaller the city, the more small-minded the politics.

Some of our city leaders are disturbed by the citizen protests, but I consider the grumblings healthy, an expression of down home Democracy. Though, frankly, I prefer they weren’t so often shrill, and ill informed.

I place much of the blame for this on the City’s failure to communicate, whether out of timidity or preferring to keep things close to their vests. For the record, my description in a commentary of the council being timorous did prompt Mayor John Sibert to take exception.

In an e-mail he states that far from being timorous the council has taken the initiative in host of issues, citing among other things scoring a needed study of the PCH and funds for improvements. And he added, and I quote, “if you think we don’t stand up to developers, you really do need to do a cranial/anal inversion. “ end of quote. Nothing timorous in that statement.

The mayor continued, saying the council for all its efforts gets no support from the-come lately spectators, who only descend on City Hall to carp. While wincing, I have to add that it is at least comforting to know that the council is listening.

This prompts me to cite yet another adage, a mathematical formula popular among journalists that states: public service equals megalomania, divided by paranoia.

But on occasion one must sympathize with those who volunteer for public service, donating their time for no compensation other than the reward of good citizenship. This was evident the other evening at the planning commission hearing considering an application for the remodel and expansion 29042 Cliffside Drive.

Aside from the questionable design, I testified that I felt the indicated construction of 49% is a blatant attempt to have the project declared a remodel and not a new structure, with its additional constraints and fees.

However, my prime objection is based on my experience as the past chair of the city”s View Preservation Task Force, and as a planner.

I fear as do current Cliffside residents that if this application is approved, and however it compromises the blue water view of any property, even by a sliver, it will also clearly affect their property values.

My view is not affected, but others are, and with the result of lowering their property values, mine also would be affected.

This did not bother the city’s wavering planning department, which recommended approval. But happily the commission did not. Member Jeff Jennings was particularly forthright . So was Mikke Pierson. And chairman David Brotman displayed his forte as an architect noting that the layout with its five master sized bedrooms, each with its own bath, was more indicative of a residential medical clinic than a family home.

Such residences have become the bane of Malibu, since only State approval is needed to convert an ostensibly private home to a clinic. Though, consultants for the corporate owner said this was not intended; that the house will be a retreat for a large extended family.

Obviously sensing the commission’s sentiments and a looming no vote, the applicants asked for a continuance. The neighbors hope in the two months given the applicant will attempt a redesign that preserves views. That is the hope, but deep pocketed developers in the past have not been so accommodating. We’ll see.

Im Sam Hall Kaplan, and this the City Observed, on 97.5 KBU and radiomalibu.net.

 

 

A Street in Malibu Celebrates

Aired July 4, 2015

And today, being July Fourth, we witness our Democracy, being tested abroad, nationally, and also in my misanthropic Malibu.

There my neighbors on Grasswood Avenue on Pt. Dume are celebrating their own modest act of independence, having risen up to protest a traffic situation and pressure the city to finally, take some action.

To be sure, the situation is not one would call dire, unless you live on the street where during the Summer beachgoers park their cars haphazardly to be near the Point’s sandy stretches.

The result: the street becomes a clogged parking lot, impassable for residents and emergency vehicles.

For years residents have complained. But the city shied away from any action, out of fear that curtailing the parking however unsafe would engender the wrath and fines of the Coastal Commission. The agency religiously encourages anything to facilitate public access to Malibu’s beckoning beaches.

That is, until this year. With beach days on the rise and more and more people descending on the Point, clogging streets with their cars, residents say, enough is enough. First responders also have voiced concern.

Residents rallied before the city’s public safety commission, and demanded something be done. Confronted by a determined citizenry, the city agreed to initiate several mitigating measures, to constrain the parking, and increase enforcement.

Now all wait until it is actually done, hopefully before the Summer ends.

Maybe because it is July Fourth, but one senses a welling up of resident frustration with the city’s handling of planning issues, and the need for more civic transparency, more democracy!

Malibu is getting more dense and desirable, and traffic more intense. The ever-avaricious real estate interest love it, but residents don’t. Shrill protests have erupted over development, mostly the high end chain stores for the tourists, but also trophy houses for the deep pocket transient.

This conflict prompted the recent overwhelming approval by voters of an ordinance with the intent of constricting large commercial developments. However badly written, it nonetheless is an expression of protest.

Next came a ringing citizen protest of plans to cut down severable venerable trees to widen a street in the civic center to accommodate increased traffic generated by a proposed new shopping center.

Though the city’s Planning Commission voted that the trees somehow be saved, the issue is still to be resolved by a conflicted city government and a recalcitrant Caltrans.

But now involved and raising its voice is an energized citizenry, very much in the spirit of July Fourth.

Time to light a firecracker in celebration.

I’m Sam Hall Kaplan, and this is the City Observed, on KBU and radiomalibu. net.