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Santa Monica's Powerful Renters' Rights Group Wants More Housing at Bergamot Transit Village

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark


Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

October 22, 2013 -- Days before the Planning Commission weighs in on plans for a major mixed-use project in the heart of Santa Monica's former industrial Bergamot Area, the bayside city's powerful renters' rights group has called for major changes.

After years of public input and an exhaustive environmental impact report (EIR) that topped out at more than 8,000 pages, the Bergamot Transit Village project will be vetted by the Planning Commission Wednesday once more before heading to the Council for final consideration.

But, citing concerns about increased traffic, Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights have called for some last-minute changes that would result in less office space and more housing in the proposed 737,000 square-foot project that Texas-based developer Hines hopes to build on the site of the former Papermate factory next to the future Expo Light rail station in the Bergamot neighborhood.

“The 400,000 square feet is too much office development,” said SMRR Co-Chair Patricia Hoffman.

As proposed, the Hines development would include 374,423 square feet of creative office space and approximately 29,391 square feet of neighborhood commercial space, leaving about 333,000 square feet for housing.

Those numbers don't pencil out for SMRR's leadership, who voted at its October meeting to lobby the Council to negotiate for more housing at the site, though without deciding on a concrete number.

“The Expo Line is supposed to relieve congestion and not be an excuse for more congestion,” said Hoffman, adding that office space is one of the biggest contributors to traffic.

Hoffman said that before Hines began the State-mandated EIR process for the proposed development, SMRR advocated that the developer study the possibility of building 60 percent housing and 40 percent office space.

While the study, paid for by Hines and carried out by City staff and outside consultants, looked at a variety of scenarios, the most recent proposal is for the development to be split about 50/50 between housing and commercial uses.

The City's project manager, Jing Yeo, said that the current proposal was the scenario with the most housing units studied in the EIR last year.

The project has become more residential -- and smaller -- over the course of the community process.

Originally, Hines proposed a project that would have been nearly a million square feet, but after objections from residents, reduced the project to its current size.

“It has changed dramatically,” said Hoffman. “Not dramatically enough.”

As for the call for more housing, Yeo said, “we can certainly respect that view,” adding that since the development agreement has not been approved, there is room for more discussion.

Still, if the Council calls for a new EIR that looks at a different housing mix, it could be a while longer before the project, already some five years in the making, moves forward.

The current EIR for the Bergamot Transit Village, which took about a year and $1 million to complete, is 8,711 pages long and looks at nine different traffic scenarios. (“Epic EIR Sets Santa Monica Record,” May 16, 2012)

In May 2012, Yeo told The Lookout that nearly two-thirds of the report is dedicated to traffic analysis.

Hoffman said that SMRR would rather wait and see how the Expo Line impacts traffic in Santa Monica before greenlighting much more office development.

“It's just too much, with the Water Gardens, the Arboretum,” she said. “On that corridor, we've already got over 800,000 square feet of office development.”

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