The Sky Is Not Falling

by Robin Rudisill

I am pleased to announce that: The Sky is NOT Falling. That anyone will be losing 50% or any amount of their property rights due to the VNC’s draft report on Mass, Scale and Character is a fallacy.

I am very concerned that the information in the draft report circulated for the purpose of collecting public comments on the VNC ad hoc committee mass, scale and character recommendations is being manipulated and distorted in order to use it to attack candidates in the VNC’s election. It’s shameful that people are misrepresenting this work; it’s unethical, and it’s fear mongering.

Here are the facts–PLEASE READ THIS:

1. Years of concern about over development and projects that were significantly in excess of the scale of their surrounding neighborhood, resulted in the VNC’s establishment of the Mass, Scale & Character Ad Hoc Committee (MSCC) in late 2012.

2. Analysis of mass, scale and character IS a required component of the coastal zone laws, and is included throughout both the Venice Coastal Zone Specific Plan (city ordinance) and our Coastal-Commission certified Venice Land Use Plan (part of the city’s General Plan). The law requires that for a discretionary land use decision (such as a Coastal Development Permit – CDP) both quantitative and qualitative standards must be applied. Quantitative standards include things such as height, setbacks, density (# of units), and replacement affordable unit requirements, which are ministerial requirements. But the qualitative standards, which include compatibility of the project with the mass, scale and character of the surrounding area, involve discretionary decisions, requiring personal judgement by the decision maker.

3. One of the goals of the MSCC, specifically driven by developers feeling that there was too much uncertainty in the process, was to add more definition and framework to the qualitative judgements involved in the analysis of the compatibility of the project with the surrounding existing neighborhood.

4. But this is not rocket science, and such subjective, qualitative decisions should not create too much uncertainty. It is quite normal to have subjective, qualitative decisions required in a discretionary land use decision such as a Coastal Development Permit. In fact, such qualitative judgements are a very important part of the planning for and protection of a community.

5. After an extensive review of “best practices,” the MSCC has provided definitions for mass, scale and character, as well as proposed frameworks for analyzing them, such as use of upper story step backs, proportional upper stories and various concepts for articulation of facades, all of which are tools to analyze a proposed development compared to surrounding structures. We have already seen many of these tools in practice.

6. My feeling is that we want to avoid having all quantitative requirements. We value the social and architectural diversity of Venice, which in turn drives the diversity of the character of its numerous unique neighborhoods. We want to allow for maximum creative freedom while staying in the overall scale of the surrounding area. In my opinion, the likelihood of an overall FAR of any number ever being put into law for the Venice Coastal Zone is slim to none.

7. The proposals of the MSCC are proposed frameworks for analyzing projects. Just as is done at the City level for a draft ordinance, the Public Comment on the draft is integral to the MSCC’s process and final recommendation that will be presented to the VNC Board. Also, it has been very clear that nothing in the draft is a final recommendation or is being proposed exclusively for purposes of a specific ordinance or policy. This is not an attempt to modify the Venice Coastal Zone Specific Plan, a ridiculous claim by one developer. Once they are approved by the VNC, the MSCC recommendations could be used for guidance in analyzing projects and as a starting point in the discussion of our Local Coastal Program. For example, the character analysis using Streetscape models and related statistics based on the attributes of the block is already being used as a valuable tool.

8. The moral of the story is that we mustn’t fall prey to the “chicken little syndrome,” aka fear mongering: the deliberate use of fear-based tactics, including exaggeration and repetition, to influence the public in order to achieve a desired outcome. *This scare tactic, indicating that you must vote for certain candidates in the June 5th VNC election in order to stop the loss of 50% of your property rights, is unfounded in reality and is being done with unhonorable intentions.