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Santa Monica No-Growth Group Rallies Against “Largest Development in 25 Years”

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

January 14, 2014 -- Two weeks before Bergamot Transit Village plans go before the City Council for final approval, local no-growth group Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) has begun rallying opposition.

In an email Monday, SMCLC called for residents to turn out in force at the City Council’s January 28 meeting, where the Council will decided the fate of the 767,000-square-foot project proposed by Texas-based developer Hines for the shuttered Papermate factory adjacent to the future Expo Light Rail station.

In the email, the group called the project “the largest development in SM in 25 years” and vented fears that the project, which includes residential and commercial space, would bring increased traffic to an area already plagued by gridlock.

“The Hines project is one of the largest development projects in Santa Monica's history in one of the most troubled traffic areas of our city,” the email reads.

“All of us need to come to this hearing to raise our voices and support SMCLC and community and neighborhood leaders calling for a reduced-size project,” it reads.

This isn’t the first time that SMCLC and other no- or slow-growth groups in the city have protested Hines' project at the Papermate site, which is more than four years in the making.

The original proposal by Hines in 2011 called for nearly one million square feet of residential and commercial development along Olympic Boulevard between 26th Street and Stewart Street. (“Hines Project Shrinks in Response to Criticism,” August 17, 2011)

After residents balked at the plans, Hines agreed to increase open space and reduce the project to its current size.

But, after years of community meetings and input from the City’s various commissions, the upcoming Council vote could be the final say on the matter.

That’s what has SMCLC up in arms.

“Many of us, citywide have worked mightily for several years to get Hines to downsize its project appropriately and design something we could support,” the email said. “Hines apparently believes that it has the four council votes needed to proceed with its current project regardless of the ongoing public outcry against it.”

Not everyone believes the Hines project is a bad idea, especially since it would replace an abandoned factory and, proponents argue, revitalize a vital location in the city.

With the Expo Light Rail line expected to start bringing thousands of passengers daily to Bergamot Station in 2016, proponents of the project want visitors to be greeted by something other than an abandoned factory.

Even so, some who want to see the project go forward would rather it include more than the 471 apartments and 27 live/work spaces and less commercial space.

A divided Planning Commission narrowly voted in December to recommend the project for Council approval after hours of discussion.

A proposal to recommend that Hines shrink the project further couldn’t get enough votes and eventually, the Commission supported the current 767,000-square-foot project in a 4-to-3 vote.

But the four commissioners who supported the project at its current size also wanted more affordable housing units included in the development.

Some want to go even further.

This “project would be much more acceptable to me if it were residential with ground floor retail,” said former mayor Denny Zane, who sits on the steering committee of the city’s most powerful political organization, Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR).

Zane said that the area saw about 3.5 million square feet of commercial office space built in the late 1980s, including the combined 2.2 million square-foot Water Gardens and Arboretum offices parks.

SMRR has been one of the voices calling for more housing in the project. (“Santa Monica's Powerful Renters' Rights Group Wants More Housing at Bergamot Transit Village,” October 22, 2013)

“We already have a very serious traffic condition on that corridor right now largely because of the big office projects approved in the 80s,” Zane said, adding that building more office space would be “piling on” to the problem.

Zane, whose organization Move LA is a driving force behind the County’s expanding public transit system, said that while he is optimistic that the Expo Light Rail will “take a lot of commuter traffic, we still have to be sensitive to local issues.”

And, he said, Los Angeles’ rail system needs more connectivity before it’s really going to get people out of their cars.

“It’s going to take more than one line to have the kind of significant effect that we’re looking for,” he said.

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