This is a part of an on-going series on How We’re Making Car-Lite Work in Santa Monica

On our way back from the dry cleaner; I draped our nearly cleaned clothes over Wilshire’s stroller.

When I first reflected on how we have gotten by as a one-car family for so long, I originally thought I would be writing about Wilshire’s bike seat, or the wagon we bought off  Amazon to haul around boxes and groceries. Or, perhaps, I’d talk about how found high-quality childcare close by.

But I think it’s important to start with something very, very basic:

We live in close proximity to the goods and services which we cannot substitute through online shopping.

Within a short, reasonably safe walk from our house, my family can access the following:

  • high quality public schools – MOST IMPORTANT
  • a pharmacy
  • two dry cleaners
  • a mailbox
  • a coffee shop
  • a grocery store
  • a coin-operated laundromat
  • a well-maintaned park

Our doctors and dentists are a short bus or bike ride away. (I was even able to take a bike to transport Wilshire to the ER).

This doesn’t necessarily have to be a uniquely Santa Monica scenario, however. You can actually do this in other parts of LA – even the parts considered “suburban”.


Is it true you can be car-lite in the Valley?

Believe it or not, this kind of lifestyle was achievable when I lived with my parents in a single-family house in the middle of the San Fernando Valley, and not in a ritzy neighborhood adjoining Ventura Boulevard.*

How is this all possible? Some of it is luck of the draw. Had my parents moved to a housing tract 0.5 miles further east, then we would’ve lost the walking distance proximity to the strip mall with the full-service grocery store, pharmacy, and full-service bank. And we would’ve lost the proximity to the bus route that provided direct service to our doctors at Kaiser.

But the other part of the story is the tract’s residential density. There are about 1,600 housing units in their census tract, resulting in about 5,000 residents. Six hundred of those units are well-kept single-family tract houses, mostly built in the 1940s and 1950s. The other 1,000 units are apartments and condos along the tract’s boulevards. Those multi-family dwellings provide a place to live for over 3,400 people. They help provide the numbers needed in order to sustain this level of services.


How does this tie back to Santa Monica, and why does it matter to families?

When Santa Monica updated its Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE), the Council proceeded with staff’s recommendation to allow for the construction of more housing by encouraging it on our so-called boulevards. The thought here was that it would mitigate negative impact to our ‘neighborhoods’ by adding it to existing commercial thoroughfares. When we updated our zoning code – which was necessary in order to actualize the vision in the LUCE – there was spot downzoning (see this from SaMoNext, circa 2014). It was disappointing because I knew, from my personal experience having lived in a ‘mature’ neighborhood where this was implemented, that my family and I directly benefited from this kind of development because it could sustain neighborhood-serving retail.

Example of neighborhood serving retail: A thrift store.

Of course, you could ask why don’t we live there. The answer is fairly simple. The Valley gets hot, our jobs are nearby, and the built environment in my parents’ neighborhood leaves something to be desired. For one, several street segments in that neighborhood lack sidewalks.

We also have a lot of friends in Santa Monica, which brings me to my next point: We’ve managed to make car-lite work for us, in part, because we have worked hard to make friends who live nearby. And that is more for another blog post.

Until next time,
Sirinya