Capturing the Rhythm of
Downtown Santa Monica
Santa Monica Centric
Creating more flexibility on Promenade to encourage nightlife
By Kevin Herrera

The evolution of the Third Street Promenade is now moving into its second phase, focusing on the esoteric — zoning codes.


While much attention has been paid to the physical transformation of the Promenade, including which type of seating people prefer, whether or not there should be a children's play area or what type of lighting and sun shades are needed, another critical lane is tackling restrictions that have prevented property owners from recruiting exciting retail and entertainment concepts.


For instance, some have wanted to recruit breweries, host live music and rent to artisans but have been unable to, either because the uses are prohibited or there are too many hurdles to leap. Others would like to break up their properties and allow for businesses to open up on the alley side of the Promenade. Those spaces could be rented at a lower rate and accommodate uses other than retail or restaurants. 

Changing zoning codes is part of Promenade 3.0, an extensive public process spearheaded by Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. (DTSM), the public-private nonprofit that manages the downtown and Promenade on behalf of the City of Santa Monica and property owners, and the City to build on the Promenade's legacy. Experts in urban placemaking have been called on to help study the Promenade and how people enjoy it today, coming up with a master plan to guide capital improvements, programming and retail and restaurant recruitment for a sustainable and prosperous future.

Currently there are 26 rules restaurants must follow if they do not wish to get a costly conditional use permit to provide entertainment. Those permits often take months to obtain. DTSM would like to remove some of these rules, for instance one that requires restaurants to always provide meals and cut off alcohol sales at 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and Midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Doing so could encourage restaurants to transform into a music venue during the late evening hours, allowing for dancing instead of just dining. 

"We want to ensure that the Promenade remains economically viable and exciting," said Andrea Korb, economic development manager for DTSM.

"As the retail world changes, brands are looking for smaller spaces and are developing more creative concepts, but a typical Promenade ground floor space is 7,500 square feet. The code should permit property owners to subdivide so that alley-fronting space can host a separate use and so that all space can be used more flexibly - whether that's for a short term pop up, a brewery, or something we haven't seen yet. Changing rules so that it is easier for restaurants to have evening entertainment will help these businesses stay afloat while adding more nighttime options for residents and visitors."

Most of the changes would be accomplished through interim zoning ordinances (IZO), not code amendments, so they would be temporary rather than permanent. An IZO removing a previously prohibited or limited use can be in place for up to five years. This mechanism will allow the City and DTSM to evaluate the impact of the changes on a temporary basis and then determine whether they should be incorporated into existing code. 

The Planning Commission showed support for the changes, acknowledging that downtown needs more entertainment options for residents and visitors. Currently foot traffic on the Promenade drops significantly after 3 p.m. 

Commissioner Richard McKinnon said he believes the street needs a nighttime economy to remain profitable in the long-term as consumers turn away from brick-and-mortar retail, according to an article in the Santa Monica Daily Press. 

"It comes down to giving people what they want. People want to drink in small, intimate spaces and enjoy live music," McKinnon said. "We need to drive and allow this change from what we have now — which is static and dead — to alive and vibrant."

Commissioner Shawn Landres said he supported removing the restriction on breweries, distilleries and coffee roasters because they offer a type of experiential retail that will survive the continuing growth of online shopping, according to the Daily Press article. 

"The notion that you could learn to brew your own beer in a brewing class and that people could walk by and see it is really cool," he said.

The City Council is expected to weigh in on Promenade 3.0 during a special meeting set for Nov. 5. 

"Promenade 3.0 is about setting up the street for success into the future," Korb said. "We do that by attracting and allowing for creative uses and experiences on the Promenade, both indoors and out. Now we're focusing on the indoors — determining how we can maximize the utility of the street's private properties."




Kevin Herrera is a former journalist turned marketing and communication expert, beer enthusiast, cyclist, cultural observer/commentator and expert on all things Downtown Santa Monica. He is currently the sr. marketing & communication manager for Downtown Santa Monica, Inc.