Santa Monica Planning Commissioner Calls for Development Halt, Cites Environmental Concerns and Water Shortage

Date: October 9, 2014

Santa Monica Planning Commissioner Calls for Development Halt
Cites Environmental Concerns and Water Shortage

(Santa Monica) - Santa Monica Planning Commissioner and City Council candidate Richard McKinnon has called for an immediate end to large-scale development in Santa Monica based on Development Agreements, saying they are no longer viable in Santa Monica because of an ongoing lack of water.

The halt is part of McKinnon’s environmental policy – Deep Green – which he released today.

“This is the worst drought in 50 years, headed towards the worst on record,” McKinnon stated. “The drought is already forcing a 20 percent reduction in water for residents. Santa Monica cannot keep building larger, denser buildings and cramming in overdevelopment when water is nonexistent. We are ignoring reality.”

“The 35 proposed DA agreements of developers, with dozens more to come, would create a line of huge luxury hotels on Ocean Avenue, hundreds-of-thousands of square feet of new office space, and thousands of new units,” McKinnon continued. “This, in a city that is already stretched to water capacity.

“Santa Monica’s 35-year-long overdevelopment has created water scarcity, endless traffic jams and an unsustainable future. This cannot continue.”

The other features of Richard McKinnon’s Deep Green Policy include:

  • Making Santa Monica carbon-neutral by 2030, including all modes of transportation and industry.
  • Creating a City utility to supply 100 percent renewable energy within five years.
  • Insisting that all new buildings be LEED Platinum.
  • Toughening new rules for Average Vehicle Ridership to force commercial and retail interests to cut daily car usage and trips.
  • Establishing rules for new development to safeguard scarce water resources.

“There has been an ongoing 30-year cutback of residential water to allow huge, new commercial development and thousands of new apartments. This must stop. Climate change must be recognized and dealt with,” McKinnon concluded. “Santa Monica is about to lose its skyline to luxury hotels and receive almost nothing in return. Our regionally-important and famous beachfront will be unrecognizable. To continue to build on is folly."

Richard McKinnon is a renter, small business owner, and former Parks & Recreation Commissioner. Richard currently serves on the Santa Monica Planning Commission, where he works to improve the quality of life in our city. A committed environmentalist and the former Chair of “Bike It!” Day. He has been a leader in several non-profit organizations within the Santa Monica school system. McKinnon and his family immigrated to the United States from Australia 14 years ago, and they are proud to call Santa Monica home.

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McKinnon ensures residents are heard at Planning Commission

This letter appeared in the Santa Monica Daily Press on August 9, 2014.


Dear Editor,

I’m writing in response to Jack Neworth’s 8/1 Laughing Matters “Lean Deep Green Fighting Machine,” about City Council candidate Richard McKinnon. As a longtime Ocean Park resident I feel McKinnon would make a welcome addition to the Council. Though I’ve only met him once, I have seen his leadership skills and ability to facilitate consensus among contentious factions.  

A few months ago I attended a Planning Commission meeting to vote on the Palihouse petition for a liquor license, the boutique hotel on 3rd Street, North of California. I was there to support my friend who lives next door to the hotel and whose life has been negatively impacted by the City’s approval of a hotel in the middle of a residential area.

I sent an email to each Commissioner asking them to vote against this.  Although I was not expecting it, Richard McKinnon responded with a thoughtful note thanking me for getting in touch with him!   In the 30 years I've been involved in Santa Monica community affairs, it was the first time I’ve ever gotten a personal reply from a Planning Commissioner or City Council member.  

More than 50 people, some with small children, showed up that evening to speak.  Most were neighbors frustrated and upset by what they had endured since the hotel opened.  It was after 10pm before the Planning Commission was ready to hear this matter.  Despite being tired and hungry (some of us), most everyone stayed because it was an issue of great concern.  The Commissioner Chair opened with a motion to table the issue for a future meeting "because it was late." That immediately elicited an angry outcry from all of us who had waited so long.  

Richard McKinnon, on the other hand, challenged this on the grounds that it would not be fair to turn away all of us who had waited so long. Despite the hour, he proposed that the Commission listen to speakers within time limits and to decide in an hour or two whether the issue needed to be continued. This earned him another point in my book.

In a nutshell, Richard really took a leadership position and kept things moving. Everyone who wanted to speak was heard and when the final vote was taken, it was unanimous against granting a liquor license to the hotel. 

In my work as an Executive Coach and in my previous corporate life, I've met some sophisticated executives but I can count on one hand those who are great facilitators at meetings. My experience that night definitely made me want to find out more about Richard McKinnon.   

I continue to be impressed Richard’s integrity, his ideas for Santa Monica, as well as his gracious and charismatic style in dealing with people, even those who don't agree with him. Richard McKinnon is good for our City and I hope he gets the support he deserves.


Kathleen Mulcahy
Santa Monica


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Things that grow in Santa Monica Gardens

It's not all politics at political events. This was in the garden at our Signing Open House. Lovely.


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Standing against the tide

The Planning Commission recently looked at a float up proposal to develop the Fred Segal site on 5th street.

It's currently a one level white brick building. Not great but innocuous. (Although expensive to buy stuff!) Its proposed replacement is a series of structures that add up to an 84-foot high, 4.5 FAR, four-building construction. A float up is a chance to give opinion before the real work begins.

The SM Daily Press reported "Planning Commission likes building design for Fred Segal site."   My view was different.


For Commissioner Richard McKinnon, the size of the proposed project is hard to grapple with.

“The problem is I have a very visceral reaction to the bulk and the massing of this and it’s an inescapable thing that every time I look at it I feel that this is just too big a building on this particular lot,” he said. “I can’t get away from that. I’ve looked at it in relationship to the black building beside it, which I think is a big building, and the other buildings that around it. It’s not a big building if you’re building in New York but it is a big building in the context of Santa Monica.”

Most commissioners lauded the design.

End quote.

“The problem is I have a very visceral reaction to the bulk and the massing of this and it’s an inescapable thing that every time I look at it I feel that this is just too big a building on this particular lot,” he said. “I can’t get away from that. I’ve looked at it in relationship to the black building beside it, which I think is a big building, and the other buildings that around it. It’s not a big building if you’re building in New York but it is a big building in the context of Santa Monica.”
Most commissioners lauded the design. - See more at:

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Planning Commission likes building designs for Fred Segal lot - See more at:
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Pedestrian Plan for Community Meeting

A new focus on walking in Santa Monica is set for a Planning Commission workshop meeting on September 22. This is a key element in creating a Pedestrian Action Pan. People want to walk, but they worry about accidents and safety. Wilshire has had a spate of disastrous incidents, and crossing this huge road can be like playing Russian roulette.

So the workshop is a useful focus. There are new tools to help. A company called Human has created an iPhone app that runs in the background of the phone and automatically detects activities like walking, cycling, running, and motorized transport. It then makes a map. (See Los Angeles walking—visualizations are solely based on aggregated data from people using the Human app.)

Getting serious will particularly help seniors who complain rightly about the danger of our roads. Road incidents just shouldn't happen. Hence the need for a plan targeting priority areas to get people moving. Once they're on the sidewalk, they can walk safely.

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Subaru steps back on Lincoln

Ron Davis, who owns Santa Monica Subaru, has now withdrawn a request for a Development Application on Lincoln. Davis had wanted to build a whole-block new car dealership for his Subaru franchise.

This is interesting because Mr. Davis has spent quite a lot of money in recent days—and quite a lot of time in the last few weeks—speaking to neighbors, addressing groups and attempting to gain support for his proposed venture. Davis has to move Subaru from his current spot on Santa Monica Boulevard within a year or two. He had found a site on Lincoln, but the LUCE didn't allow car dealerships on South Lincoln. Davis then began the process of community outreach.

In my meeting with Mr. Davis, I was quite direct in not favoring car dealers south of the 10 freeway. I was also  not very interested in seeing whole-block businesses emerge on Lincoln. It is concerning to think of a set of whole-block Best Buy, CVS, Staples—one after another down that road. The conditions are difficult; lots are narrow and there is no alley for most of Lincoln.

Yet in watching Mr. Davis operate, Subaru appeared to be making some ground in the community. Many people were prepared to entertain the idea even though there was vehement opposition from many others. There is clearly a desire to change the streetscape. And quickly.

In essence, the area Davis had targeted will now likely remain very much the same for quite a while. Many of the leases of the existing smaller automotive businesses are about to run out; if re-signed, the term is usually 5 years plus. So there will remain a line of small-scale auto repair shops opposite Albertson's.

Mr. Davis's legal team couldn't specify the reason he withdrew.

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Santa Monica's drought strategy isn't working yet.

Yesterday Santa Monica's Office of Sustainability put out a press release that showcased a citywide failure on water conservation. California has only about three months before the worst drought in decades smash's everyone lifestyle to smithereens. Yet apparently, instead of reducing water consumption by 20%, in Santa Monica usage went up 2%. That's a statewide trend too. So now conservation efforts will have big fines to compel usage restrictions. What will it take for people to cut down the water usage?

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The July 4 Parade


After 8 years the Santa Monica July 4 parade is almost perfect. It draws enough people to line Main Street. They cheer. The marchers cheer, everyone waves a flag, everyone wears red, white and blue, it's kind of small town and it reflects all parts of our city without comment. And the thing is, that everywhere across America today, in every town and community  people are holding exactly the same sort of parade. Of course they probably couldn't get as much fun out of it as we all did this morning. Cheer on the Ocean Park Association for running it every year and credit Lori Nafshun who came up with the idea originally.


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The truly cool roof is coming


A week or so ago, the often arcane Zoning Ordinance Update discussion at the Planning Commission reached the roof.

This was an opening. I suggested we insert a requirement for cool roofs in the code. We shall see what the Planning Department returns with, but my intent at that moment, and moving forward, was to insert a conservation measure. 

Popularly, it's sometimes thought of as being about a "white roof." And the color could be part of it. But the wider intent is to turn Santa Monica’s roofs into either a place to support renewable energy sources like solar or wind, or simply install solar reflective surfaces that inhibit external heating or cooling and, consequently, make interior heating or cooling unnecessary. A small change that can bring a big result.

Read more about cool roofs.

Read more about Richard's stand on the issues facing Santa Monica.



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The Sad Ponies of the Sunday Market

Sunday Farmers Markets on Main are one of Santa Monica's gems. They are relaxed, crowded, but intimate and neighborly. You always have a sense that everyone has just rolled out of bed and headed down there to get something for breakfast, or to cook for a later get together of friends. 400 bikes are valeted every week. There are plenty of children. It's perfect in so many ways.

But there are also the little horses walking in constrained, never-ending circles. Tied up, they trudge their tight paths so slowly. Most of us have probably not thought that much about these ponies beyond their obvious discomfort. Marcy Winograd has. Her new site escalates the pressure on the pony operators to stop. Marcy has seen something ugly we all should have. She wants to solve the problem and get the pony show stopped. She is asking tough questions and raising hard issues

The operators are clearly profiting from the horses. The city runs the markets. It's impossible to understand how these operators can continue if enough residents speak up and register their unhappiness. For a city that takes animal welfare seriously, this must change, and change quickly.

Sign the petition (I did), and complain, and let's rectify the cruel oversight that has allowed these ponies to become exploited under our many eyes.

Sign here:


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