Dingbat City

Long time readers know that this blog holds the dingbat in high regard, perhaps not for its architectural styling, but as a symbol of a development process that allowed natural evolution of neighborhoods and created tons of instantly affordable housing at a time of rapid growth in LA. Indeed, we’ve gone so far as to suggest that if we want to increase affordability in LA, we need to figure out how to resurrect the spirit of the dingbat.

Dingbats, like any mass-produced building type, have their shortcomings. These are mostly related to use of cheap construction materials for things like windows, poor insulation and soundproofing, and seismic issues stemming from their iconic open carports (which were poorly understood at the time). However, a recent opinion column in the Santa Monica Daily Press tries to conflate these fixable problems with fatal, but fictional, flaws related to density and design, and then conflate dingbats with the five-story podium buildings that, thanks to a recent downzoning, won’t be built on Santa Monica’s commercial boulevards.

After lampooning an architect who improved many people’s lives by making possible for them to move to Los Angeles instead of trying to keep them out, the column reaches the crux of its anti-dingbat argument by asking:

“Don’t most people want. . . elements missing from the dingbats. . . light, openness, blue sky, scale and proportion, privacy, sustainability, and amenities such as courtyards, with trees and landscaping, that enhance one’s quality of life?”

You know what else enhances one’s quality of life? Not having to spend an exorbitant portion of one’s income on housing! Maybe you want trees and landscaping, or the light that so many buildings are said to lack, though I’ve never heard of a dingbat denizen dying from lack of sunlight. On the other hand, maybe you’re working two jobs, or both working and attending school. You need a low-cost apartment, and the “scale and proportion” is the last thing on your mind. Why should a bunch of NIMBYs decide what type of housing you can have? Shouldn’t you get to choose?

In an effort to get you to think that no, you shouldn’t, the column pivots to a discussion of the need to trim one’s wish list when building a dream home, likening it to trimming the development density allowed in Santa Monica’s Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE). But of course, a downzoning isn’t about NIMBYs trimming their wish lists, it’s about everyone else – young people, low income residents, recent arrivals – making sacrifices for the NIMBYs.

In trying to make that leap from two-story dingbats to five-story podiums, the column falls flat. Modern podium buildings are much better buildings than dingbats thanks to advancements in construction technology, improvements in building codes and design, and the state energy code. Many of the new podium buildings recently constructed in Santa Monica – the kind the column’s author doesn’t want any more of – include the amenities whose absence in dingbats the column bemoans. In fact, the downzonings favored by NIMBYs will help to ensure that many people have no affordable housing option other than the dingbats. It’s kind of strange to slag the dingbats, and then oppose the construction of modern housing too. If you want people to have options other than dingbats, you might want to advocate for those options to be built.

The truth is that NIMBYs don’t really care about building design that much; they just don’t like any density. Likewise, they will pretend to care about affordable housing to the extent needed to align politically with people who oppose development for other reasons, like displacement. For example, a previous column in the Santa Monica Daily Press called for increasing housing affordability by converting office space to residential, a plan that could only have an impact on housing prices if it drove up commercial rents and started forcing small businesses out of Santa Monica. NIMBYs don’t have to care about design or affordability, but they should be called on it when they pretend they do.

As for the stucco box vernacular, you don’t have to love it, but until you have a plan to mass produce higher-quality affordable housing, you should at least respect it.

10 thoughts on “Dingbat City

  1. Charles Andrews

    Whoever you are, anonymous writer, you might do well to learn the difference between “editorial” and “column.” What the SMa.r.t. group of architects write every week in the Daily Press is a column.

  2. Charles Andrews

    So — why are you anonymous? You throw a lot of unsupported accusations around, and just love the term NIMBY, easily dismissing all who love Santa Monica but disagree with you as having only selfish motives. This is political rhetoric at its most cowardly. Put your name on it. You make everyone who posts a comment do that. Do you even live in Santa Monica? Which developer is paying your bills?

    You don’t have to post this. But you can respond to me.

    1. Joshua

      Likewise, anti-housing folks pretend to be offended by being called NIMBYs in order to avoid having to respond to meritorious arguments, such as how anti-housing policies exacerbate climate change, segregation, and socioeconomic inequality. I’m sure these anti-housing folks love Santa Monica–for themselves, to the exclusion of anyone else.

    2. letsgola Post author

      This is a hobby blog hosted for free on WordPress; there are no bills (or revenue for that matter) and costs, other than time. The comments form is the default WordPress system, and people are free to use a pseudonym when posting comments. Note that after your first comment has been approved manually, all subsequent comments are approved automatically (again, WordPress default).

      As for me, I recently moved from Palms to Glendale, and wrote a couple posts about it. I lived in Santa Monica once, and enjoyed the city including seeing new buildings go up, but it just wasn’t very convenient for my commute. I don’t doubt that opponents of development have love for the city, but many people who love the same places have different opinions about how they should grow. Housing issues don’t stop at city borders, and this blog has commented on development all over the region.

  3. India BC

    “Do you even live in Santa Monica?” There they go again. Just put a wall around the city and create a municipal thought police unit to arrest anyone who dares express an opinion about the city but lives outside the borders. They hate tourists and visitors anyway– economic vitality they bring to the city be damned. The more I read comments from zealots like Charles Andrews the more ashamed I am of my home town.

  4. Charles Andrews

    Terrific overstatement, India BC. “They”? — I don’t hate tourists or visitors. I like them. They’re important to our city, always have been, make us what we are. We deal with about a quarter of a million of them every day. I’m just trying to guarantee they’ll still want to come to Santa Monica for another 100 years, which they won’t if it turns into an overdeveloped indistinguishable extension of LA. “Zealot”? — more hyperbole, demonizing, exaggeration, name calling.

    I read a lot of what’s posted in various places, and I have to say there seems to be much more invective and personal attacks coming from the pro-development side, now under the umbrella of “Forward.” I’ve seen people I know attacked, by name, as “old hag” and “big fat pig.” So who’s the thought police? Who’s stifling dialog? I used my name, standing behind my statements and convictions — and giving anonymous people like you an opportunity to attack me. Who are you? Who is this blogger? He or she has resolutely remained anonymous for quite a while, despite requests for ID.

    So, letsgola lives in Glendale. Write about Glendale, letsgola. Write about all the areas of greater LA that are so much less dense than Santa Monica and are not “doing their part.” Why this obsession with Santa Monica, by people who don’t live here? Go tell Culver City or Beverly Hills or Echo Park what they should be doing. Would you want me telling you what to do with your town, letsgola? How about you, India BC, wherever you live?

    There’s no wall around Santa Monica, but there is a border. It’s not LA, it’s not Century City or Venice. I can’t effect change through voting in Los Angeles. I can in Santa Monica, because I live and vote here. I have no citizen power outside Santa Monica, where I live, and therefore would never presume to tell other people in other parts of the area what to do.

    Even a fairly aware high school kid could figure out enough economics to know that you can’t build your way to affordable housing in an area that is gentrifying at an alarming rate, an area that untold numbers of people would pay top dollar to live in. How many apartments and condos do you build before the price starts dropping? Manhattan is pretty high and dense and the rents there are astronomical. Shall we make Santa Monica Manhattan, for no more affordable units than we have now?

    It’s not even a specious argument. It’s ridiculous. No one has ever answered the question (and it’s been asked many times), How many apartments and condos would we have to build in Santa Monica to make them affordable? So… you have to ask yourself what is driving this movement to build, build, build in Santa Monica?

    Here’s a hint: the land area now home to Santa Monica airport is worth in excess of $2,000,000,000. That’s billion with a capital B.

    Affordable housing, returning diversity to Santa Monica, is a tough problem. I don’t have the answer, yet. There have been some good ideas proposed. But overdeveloping the city for no good reason other than to line the pockets of outside developers, is no answer, and will only destroy this still-charming city for all future generations.

    1. chargercarl

      Charles, you may not have an answer for affordable housing, but LetsGoLA does. You should let him speak his mind and challenge his ideas if you think they’re wrong. Instead you just cry that he doesn’t live in Santa Monica and that only people who live their should be allowed to have opinions on it. Bad public policy is bad public policy and I and other like me will call it out when I see it regardless of where it takes place.

  5. India BC

    Perhaps we can’t build our way out of high rents. But I take major issue with this tendancy to personally attack anyone who challenges the Residocracy platform. People choose to be anonymous because Residocracy members look up personal information about anyone they disagree with and put it on the internet. Its annoying, threatening, and completely derails the conversation. I’ve tried to have meaningful interactions with a lot of you and then it always goes back to an attack on my personal life. I’m actually not being anonymous here. My name is India. The blogger has the right to be anonymous for whatever reason he or she wants to. Why can’t you respect that?

    Growing up in Santa Monica, I was taught from an early age that our actions as a community affect the entire world. Its immoral for any city to close in on the surrounding region and say “sorry about xyz problem, but we are not going to address it here.” No, I’m not a resident of Santa Monica, but I am a resident of Los Angeles County and California. So are you. We face the same issues. Invisible borders around aren’t going to make them go away.

    The housing crisis is real. I know you are going to bring up the water issue but when 80% of the state’s water goes to agriculture, and water use in dense areas has actually remained flat over the past few years despite development, I don’t think its a reason to stop development completely. In the long run, density is much, much, much more resource efficient.

    Instead of putting a moratorium on development or having a knee jerk reaction to anything proposed, why can’t Residocracy work with the city to come up with more meaningful solutions than railroading everything that comes through? I think its safe to say that everyone on both sides of the issue cares about affordable housing. We just disagree on the paths to get there. If we don’t figure out how to talk to each other and listen to what other people have to say (even if they aren’t “citizens” of Santa Monica) housing prices are just going to get higher and higher.

  6. chargercarl

    Charles, you also seem to be arguing that the demand curve for housing in Santa Monica slopes up! That would be an astonishing find indeed, good enough to get you published in a top Econ journal and tenured at Harvard!


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