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Council Approves Controversial 20-Unit San Vicente/Ocean Condo  

By Jonathan Friedman
Lookout Staff

November 10, 2010 -- Unless a lawsuit is filed, the final battle concluded on Tuesday regarding a development proposal at what some people call Santa Monica’s “Gateway” property on the southeast corner of Ocean Avenue and San Vicente Boulevard. The City Council voted 6-0, with a frustrated Kevin McKeown abstaining, to reject an appeal of the Planning Commission’s August approval for a 20-unit condominium at the site.

This project by national real estate giant Trammell Crow will replace a 47-unit apartment complex on the property that was built in the 1950s. The remaining tenants were evicted earlier this year following a lengthy process. Former tenant Ty Wapato was the spokesperson for the group of 14 people that had filed the appeal. He claimed that while the property owner was trying to evict the tenants, it had stopped taking care of the complex and forced the renters to sign agreements not to speak against the project in order to receive relocation benefits. The alleged mistreatment of the tenants was the reason for McKeown’s abstention.

“Every time I drive by this site, I am going to feel shame at how this community was unable to protect its residents and its history,” said McKeown, also referring to how the Landmarks Commission had approved the apartment complex as a landmark because it was home to the City’s first female mayor, but this was later overturned by the council. “I cannot vote for this project. But given what’s before us, there are simply not the findings for me to vote against it.”

Gregory Ames, a principal at Trammell, said it was not true that care for the apartment complex was stopped. He defended a situation in which the tenants were prevented from doing maintenance as an insurance issue. He said when it was learned the company assigned to maintenance at the complex had done a poor job, it was replaced. Also, he said while at first the gag clauses had been included in the relocation benefits agreements, they were later removed when they became an issue. He noted that the Rent Control Board had been presented with the clause, and did not object to it.

Brad Cox, a senior managing director for Trammel, said the tenants were given a phone number to call about any problems following the tenant harassment allegations.

Mayor Bobby Shriver spoke against the confidentiality agreements.

“Putting a gag clause in these original documents was a big mistake whether the Rent Control Board approved them or not … that’s really something that we are really against,” Shriver said. “We want people to speak out at anytime on anything regardless of whether they’ve accepted any benefits. We feel strongly about that.”

The proposed project calls for three buildings (two with three stories and one with four stories) surrounding a 5,000-square-foot courtyard. The Spanish Revival architectural style includes white-wash plaster and tile work. Five units are designated for affordability by “moderate income” households. Proposed unit sizes from 850 square feet to 4,000 square feet. The project must go before the Architectural Review Board (ARB) for final design review.

A project proposal from 2008 featuring what City officials called a contemporary style was rejected by many neighborhood residents for various reasons, including the project’s mass. The developer then redesigned it with the Spanish Revival style. Council member Richard Bloom said it was good the mass was reduced, but he wished the contemporary style had been kept.

“I thought we missed a bit of an opportunity when we shifted away from the contemporary structure that was originally proposed and then went to the proposal that is in front of us,” Bloom said.

He added, “I want to be sure that we are not as a community avoiding looking at contemporary architecture as an acceptable style … We as a community as we go forward on other projects [should not] assume that contemporary is not a great style to include in this very eclectic community of ours.”

Despite the criticism, Bloom referred to the project as “first-class” and “an attractive addition to that area and the neighborhood.”

Council member Gleam Davis said this was an example of a developer actually listening to people from the neighborhood, and adjusting a project proposal in response.

“We frequently hear people say, ‘I went to a meeting and nobody did anything,’” Davis said. “This seems to be an instance where people attended a meeting and expressed opinions, and those opinions were heard.”

 

"Every time I drive by this site, I am going to feel shame at how this community was unable to protect its residents and its history."
      Councilmember,
      Kevin McKeown

“Putting a gag clause in these original documents was a big mistake whether the Rent Control Board approved them or not … that’s really something that we are really against.”
       Mayor,
      Bobby Shriver


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