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Santa Monica's Love/Hate Relationship with Bergamot Plan  

By Gene Williams
Lookout Staff

February 22, 2011 -- The City of Santa Monica presented a vision for the future Bergamot Transit Village at a community workshop Thursday, and the community seemed to like what it saw.

The public’s enthusiasm was both surprising and predictable.

Surprising because the vision calls for a great deal of development on an old industrial site at 26th Street and Olympic Boulevard. And it’s well known that many people in Santa Monica don’t like development.

But at the same time, the public’s eagerness to embrace the vision Thursday was predictable because the workshop mostly reaffirmed what everyone had already said during 7 years of discussion that went into the city’s 2010 Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) update.

Familiar LUCE words, such as “integrated,” “connected,” “bikeable,” “pedestrian oriented” and “human scale,” echoed back and forth between residents, city planners, commissioners and consultants for two hours inside the cycloramic halls of Pier 59 Studios -- a large structure built for manufacturing but now a facility for fashion photography at Bergamot Station.

The professional planners said that the new Bergamot Transit Village -- the first stop in Santa Monica for the Expo Light Rail in 2015 --.will be a mixed-use, mixed-income district with creative-arts jobs, shops, housing, wide sidewalks, shade trees, pedestrian lighting, bike paths, new streets and more.

“A walkable neighborhood” where people “don’t feel like they are in a corporate campus” is how John Kaliski, an urban planning consultant to the City, described it.

The 140 or so in the audience appreciated what they heard.

“We want feedback on the details,” Kaliski said. It’s a question of “how far you want to go,” he said.

The attendees broke into groups at a dozen discussion tables. When they came back with their answers an hour later, some general themes emerged:

Keep the arts in, keep the big-box retailers out, create a village-style neighborhood with a diverse mix of businesses and people, add recreational facilities and open space, add walkways and bikeways to connect everything to the surrounding area and create a finer grid with more streets to diffuse traffic.

Stripped of their many variations and details, those were the kinds of responses heard most frequently Thursday night.

The Bergamot area is “about the arts,” a group spokesperson for table 8 said. “The arts have to be the driving force behind development.”

No one disagreed with his point. In fact, there was little if any disagreement on any of the major points that night, and there seemed to be optimism, even excitement, in the room.

It seems that Santa Monica has learned to love the Bergamot plan. Or at least the people who attended the workshop have.

The general amity among everyone involved in Thursday’s discussion stood in stark contrast to a meeting held at Virginia Park two months earlier, in which some 40 residents expressed overwhelming outrage at plans for the Bergamot Transit Village. See story: Transit Village Will Impair Transit, December 10, 2010.

With buildings more than 80 feet high and a combined floor area totaling nearly 1 million square feet, the transit village would add way too much traffic to an already overburdened Olympic Boulevard, residents said at the earlier meeting.

But that was a different kind of meeting, one in which the public was reviewing a preliminary proposal from Hines, the Texas-based real estate firm which seeks a development agreement to build the transit village.

No one talked much about Hines at Thursday’s workshop, or the specific details of the transit village project or any other project for that matter.

That’s because residents were told at the beginning of the evening that the workshop was not about project details, but simply what kinds of features they would like to see in the Bergamot area as a whole.

In other words, the workshop was more about what public benefits the city wants to get – or build itself – under a development agreement. And people in Santa Monica like public benefits, even if they don’t always like the increased density that goes along with it.

And while density and traffic were still on many people’s minds – at least four discussion groups mentioned it while summarizing their reports – the strident worries of earlier meetings were not heard Thursday. The focus was on the potential for positive change.

City officials say there will be at least two more Bergamot workshops this year: one in May or June and another in summer or fall.

Near the end of Thursday’s gathering, one of Santa Monica’s older residents, a woman who has been in the city since before World War II, turned to the person next to her and said something was missing.

“It’s a shame that the old Papermate plant closed,” she said. “Isn’t there any room in this plan for manufacturing?”

But no one seemed to notice. They were all looking forward.

Papermate manufactured writing pens from 1957 to 2005 on the seven-acre site where the transit village will be built.


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