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Area Around Santa Monica's First Expo Stop Begins Taking Shape  


By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

May 21, 2012 -- The Santa Monica Planning Commission on Wednesday recommended that steps be taken to add open space and reduce traffic in the Bergamot Area that will surround the first Expo Light Rail line stop in the beachside city.

The Commission reviewed the Bergamot Area Plan, which outlines in broad strokes the future of the former industrial area that eventually could be home to three major projects that would add nearly 1.4 million square feet of development.

They include the Colorado Creative Studios, a 191,982 square foot mixed-use building; a 400,000-square-foot mixed-use project with 393 units at the current Village Trailer Park site, and a 766,000-square-foot project at the former Papermate site.

“At its core, (the Bergamot Area Plan) is a treatise on the expectations of the community for how projects are shaped,” said Peter James, senior planner. “It seeks to integrate the Expo into the daily pattern of life as the area evolves into a more mixed-use center.”

Phase II of the Expo line, which is expected to cost $1.5 billion, will connect Santa Monica to Culver City and be completed by 2016. Phase I from Downtown Los Angeles, brought its first passengers to the Westside last month.

The “treatise” has begun to coalesce, creating the outline for a “walkable and human-scaled mixed-use, transit-oriented neighborhood,” according to the staff report.

City planners are looking into a variety of possible layouts for the area, including the use of “complete streets,” which allow clearly visible divisions of space for pedestrians, bicyclists, and vehicles alike, usually with landscaping.

They also are looking into “pocket parks,” which take up about the space of two parking spots and are meant to be used as a public space.

But the major concern on everyone's mind Wednesday was the question of traffic, which polls consistently show is the issue Santa Monica residents are most worried about.

Former Mayor Paul Rosenstein, who lives in the area, said that existing traffic has left him feeling “landlocked," adding that he would like to see the Bergamot Area Plan call for smaller scale development.

“We don't need five story buildings all over the place,” he said.

The area, Rosenstein said, needs more housing, since people living in near their work would help alleviate traffic.

James cautioned that “just locating housing near transit or even locating jobs near transit is not enough to reduce trips or create a neighborhood environment,”

“It really is a combination of the right uses and the right locations complimented by a street network that can support a variety of different experiences at different times of the day, including open space at various scales,” James said.

The Bergamot Area Plan recommends the formation of a Transit Management Association or Organization (TMA/O) that would be spearheaded by businesses in the area and would be responsible for helping “promote, market and encourage alternative transportation options,” according to the staff report.

Commissioner Jennifer Kennedy said that staff needs to do more than recommend that a TMA/O be formed, they need to require it.

Commissioner Jim Ries agreed.

“We have to really incentivize people getting out of their cars,” he said, adding that he would like to see lanes that could become dedicated bus lanes during peak hours.

According to a survey of employees in the area, 95 percent of them park on site. Eighty-eight percent of them get their on site parking for free, Commissioner Ted Winterer noted Wednesday.

“If you're parking for free on site, you're never going to take mass transit; you're never going to ride your bike," he said. "We need to get on that TMA sooner rather than later to address that.”

The City's Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE), which will guide development in Santa Monica for the next two decades, has the stated goal of focusing development around transit hubs in order to reduce car trips.

Traffic wasn't the only concern. Although the Commissioners liked the idea of “pocket parks,” they didn't like the idea of those being the only communal spaces in the Bergamot Area.

“If we end up in 25 years with development here and the only open space we have is on our streets, we've missed what my understanding of the LUCE was about,” Ries said.

“I fought for higher building heights so that we could trade off in situations where we could get open space on people's property that is active open space,” he said.

Winterer suggested that when Development Agreements in the Bergamot Area are negotiated, the City should include funding in the benefits package, specifically for improving and expanding Stewart Park.

“There is a need in all neighborhoods for a place, not only for passive recreation, but also for sports and stuff like that,” Winterer said.

There will be plenty of time for more public input.

According to the staff report, staff will present the draft street and circulation, parking, urban form and open concepts to the City Council next month.

From there, staff will further refine the concepts and create a draft Bergamot Area Plan to be circulated for public discussion.



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