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Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City Announces Lawsuit to Halt Hines Development

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and MarkHarding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors BureauWhen one lives in a city as breathtakingly beautiful and unique as Santa Monica, inevitably that city will be shared with visitors.

By Jason Islas
Lookout reporter

March 11, 2014 -- Escalating the ongoing battle over development in Santa Monica, a local slow-growth group filed a lawsuit Monday to halt the embattled Bergamot Transit Village project, currently the subject of a referendum drive.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court by Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC), alleges that City staff did not “properly study reasonable project alternatives” as part of a State-mandated environmental impact report (EIR) for the 765,000 square-foot mixed use project.

Beverly Palmer, the attorney representing SMCLC, won a major decision in December when a judge overturned the City of Los Angeles' Hollywood Community Plan, ruling that the Plan, which was designed to encourage major development near transit stops, relied on inaccurate data.

“Residents were forced to sue because the City didn’t do its job,” said SMCLC Co-Chair Diana Gordon in an official statement announcing the lawsuit Monday.

“The City was outmaneuvered and out negotiated at every stage, including when it did not study reasonable legally required alternatives in the EIR to this massive project,” Gordon said, referring to the 8,500-page report that accompanied the developer's plans. (“Epic EIR Sets Santa Monica Record,” May 16, 2012)

According to the press release, the lawsuit also alleges that the project violates the City's new Land Use and Circulation Element, which sets the development standards throughout Santa Monica.

The lawsuit is the second hurdle currently facing a project that has been in the making for about seven years.

After the City Council narrowly approved the project -- slated to replace the abandoned Papermate factory at Olympic Boulevard and 26th Street -- with a 4-to-3 vote last month, opponents decided to take the project to the ballot box. (“Santa Monica City Council Narrowly Approves Bergamot Transit Village,” February 5, 2014)

SMCLC and Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) -- one of the city's most powerful political organizations -- joined forces with, an online group set-up by former City Council candidate Armen Melkonians, that bills itself as “a unified voice of the Residents against corporate, business, and outside influences at City Hall.”

The sponsors of the referendum are expected to submit the signatures collected during the month-long petition drive ahead of Thursday's deadline. (“SMRR, Neighborhood Groups Rally for Anti-Development Referendum,” February 14, 2014)

Unofficial estimates place the number of signatures gathered between 8,000 and 10,000, well above the 6,100 needed to qualify the referendum for the November ballot.

Opponents say that the project is much too large and, with about 60 percent of it earmarked for commercial office space, would generate too much traffic. The EIR showed that the project could generate as many as 7,000 new car trips a day.

Supporters say that the proposed project is better than attempting to re-purpose the factory, which operated between 1957 and 2005.

The new project, they contend, brings a mix of uses -- including about 330,000 square feet of housing -- to Santa Monica's former industrial quarter.

They note that the project is directly across the street from one of three Santa Monica stops along the Expo Light Rail line expected to arrive in the bayside city in early 2016.

Gordon believes that the City Council could have negotiated for a better project.

“(The Council) accepted Hines’ posturing that it would ‘reoccupy’ a defunct warehouse unless it got its way with a 766,000 square foot project,” she said.

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