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Council Goes with Ten-foot Bonus

By Jorge Casuso

July 24 – A divided City Council on Tuesday gave the initial nod to buildings that can stand between 45 and 75 feet in select stretches of the city’s boulevards by giving developers 10-foot height “bonuses” in exchange for “public benefits.”

The long-anticipated vote – which calls for a study of the environmental impacts such buildings would have – is the first concrete vote on the Land Use and Circulation Element of the General Plan that has been slowly taking shape over nearly four years.

The slim majority comprised of Mayor Herb Katz, Mayor Pro Tem Richard Bloom and Council members Bob Holbrook and Pam O’Connor argued that by providing developers with ten-foot height bonuses, and 20-foot bonuses in select areas, the community could gain important benefits.

“We get to choose the public benefits,” Holbrook said. “If the public benefits are so exceptional, we can add a fifth floor.”

The council’s proposal would allow developers of buildings in certain parts of the city to add as many as two stories above the “baseline” in exchange for providing “community benefits,” such as affordable and workforce housing, childcare, parks and plazas, community rooms and traffic-fighting measures.

The prevailing council members urged their colleagues to move ahead by voting to conduct an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that includes the proposed heights.

“We can continue to talk about what we don’t want,” said O’Connor. “And we never get to talk about what we want to make it a better community.”

But the three dissenting Council members – Ken Genser, Kevin McKeown and Bobby Shriver – felt the bonuses would result in buildings that were too tall for the beachside city.

“There’s a lot of sensitivity in this community about heights,” Shriver said.

“We’re certainly increasing density by a significant amount,” Genser said.

The bonuses, Genser argued, “might apply in every instant, which is not fine,” since they in effect increase the baseline by at least ten feet.

“Every district is ten feet higher than what we say it is,” Genser said. “I think we are either fooling ourselves or trying to fool the public about what the standards we’re considering really are.”

Grenser feared that “if they (developers) make the points (the necessary benefits), they get the building.”

But Holbrook countered that the council would have the discretion to decide if the benefits warranted giving the height bonus.

“We’re the ones that set the value of the points,” Holbrook said. “That’s our discretionary power.”

The council, he said, “could set a really high bar. It would have to be an exceptional project.”

With the 4 to 3 vote, the council directed staff to study the following heights for select parts of the city, which include “activity centers” or mini neighborhoods with a mix of uses:

  • The Bergamot Station activity center in the city’s industrial area would be the tallest, reaching 75 feet if the developer provides a floor of affordable housing.
  • The activity center around Wilshire and 14th Street would have a base of 45 feet, but could reach 65 feet if the developer includes affordable housing and provides other community benefits.
  • The activity center at Ocean Park Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue (on the current Albertson’s parking lot) could reach 55 feet with community benefits.
  • Select parts of Santa Monica Boulevard near the east end of town, as well as parts of Broadway and most of Colorado Avenue could have buildings as tall as 45 feet (or one story above the base) if the developer provides adequate community benefits.
  • Buildings on the four-block stretch the east end of Pico Boulevard on the south side of the street also could reach 45 feet, or one story above the base.

The council will have some discretion in evaluating benefits, according to staff.

“Most are hard to quantify,” said Planner Bruce Leach, noting that one of the benefits is “preserving historic resources.” “So there’s going to be some kind of a process to evaluate these.”

In an interview with The Lookout after the meeting Leach predicted that “90 percent of the projects that get built won’t have that extra ten feet.”

He also noted that staff would now study the impacts of the proposed heights, which have not yet been given final approval by council.

“This is just another phase in the study,” Leach said. “It’s not approving anything.”

On Thursday night, the council will continue hammering out the proposed heights in other select areas.

The ongoing process to craft the LUCE, which will dictate development in the city for the next two decades, is the result of numerous community meetings, nine Planning Commission meetings and half a dozen council meetings.


“There’s a lot of sensitivity in this community about heights.” Bobby Shriver


“We can continue to talk about what we don’t want... and we never get to talk about what we want to make it a better community.” Pam O'Connor


“I think we are either fooling ourselves or trying to fool the public about what the standards we’re considering really are.” Ken Genser


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