March 2, 2024 Your Source for Brentwood News

Brentwood Beat – Westside Urban Forum: Small Can Be Good

I was invited by fellow Brentwood resident Josh Stephens to moderate a recent panel conversation conducted by the Westside Urban Forum, a group that meets regularly to talk about housing, transportation and infrastructure issues.

Mayors Gleam Davis of Santa Monica, James T. Butts of Inglewood, and Sepi Shyne of West Hollywood were on the panel. Mayor Albert Vera of Culver City had to pull out at the last minute because of a business emergency.

The Mayor of Los Angeles was left out of this conference by design, according to Josh Stephens, in order to give these smaller cities more of a chance to shine. LA gets its own Westside Urban Forum event later in the year, he said.

Westside Urban Forum is made up mostly of architects, city planners and builders. About 70 attended. Here are some highlights of that meeting.

I opened with some breaking news: a recent article in the Antelope Valley Press indicated Santa Monica was in discussions with the City of Palmdale for the purpose of building housing in Palmdale that would help Santa Monica fulfill its housing target goals.

In this article, Palmdale City Manager Ronda Perez is quoted as saying a financial deal might be arrived at, whereby Palmdale could benefit from helping Santa Monica. 

Palmdale Mayor Laura Bettencourt was quoted in the same article as being opposed to the idea, out of concern Santa Monica might try and ship its unhoused population up to Palmdale. 

Mayor Davis of Santa Monica immediately shot this idea down, saying she didn’t authorize these conversations and she’s opposed to the idea anyway. 

Santa Monica needs housing close to its businesses so as to reduce commutes, she said. It is also morally repugnant, she added, to put Santa Monica’s homeless “out of sight and out of mind.”

I have actually written articles in the Brentwood News in favor of exploring a Palmdale option, because to house and provide services to 66,000 homeless individuals across LA County is going to require considerable land. 

LAX owns 17,000 acres up in Palmdale, bought in 1968 to build an airport that never got built. Maybe a “world class” village for homeless, including shelter, services and job training could be built there, I suggested. I don’t think I persuaded Mayor Davis. 

Mayor James T. Butts questioned the idea of just shifting homeless individuals from place to place. During Project Room Key, a motel in Inglewood was filled with 107 formerly homeless occupants, all paid for by the City and County of Los Angeles. 

Mayor Butts said he wonders how long the City and County of Los Angeles will pay for this – and what will happen to the motel’s occupants if and when they are asked to leave. He suggested they could very well end up back on the streets.

In addition to building an arena in Inglewood, Inglewood is also building 2,000 units of affordable housing, according to Butts. He thinks Inglewood is doing about as much as it can do to provide housing, as there is very little available land.

Mayor Shyne said West Hollywood had reduced its homeless population by 60% in the last two years, the result of a combination of assertive outreach, services and shelter. West Hollywood is looking into using vacant city properties for housing. LA has discussed this, as well.

All three mayors agreed a regional solution will be required, and that small cities on their own can only do so much, and only for small pieces of the puzzle that is Greater LA.

Santa Monica Mayor Davis noted that the Santa Monica Airport – 227 acres – will close in 2028. She said there are a lot of competing interests who would love to get their hands on the land. 

Some think it should all go to housing, she said; others think the entire property should be turned into a big park; Mayor Davis said it is likely some combination of these ideas will be employed, adding she didn’t want to say too much at this time.

Davis said the City of Santa Monica will likely hire an outside consultant that will seek out inputs from everyday citizens who might otherwise not be known to Santa Monica City Hall insiders. She said “often it’s the same 15 people” who voice opinions at City Hall meetings. 

Santa Monica wants to get this right, she said, noting that these “citizen panels” have worked in other places. I told her after the panel concluded I’d like to see a zoo and an aquarium there. 

There was a notable difference between listening to these mayors of smaller cities and City of Los Angeles officials. 

Because Brentwood is part of LA, discussions about what LA should do as a city often become long, drawn-out talks that include mention of how hard it is to get things done because of all the bureaucracy. 

I got the sense from this panel discussion that these smaller cities have a lot more leeway when it comes to trying new things. Small can be good.

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