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Santa Monica City Council Adopts Bergamot Area Plan

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark


Rusty's Surf

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

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

September 12, 2013 -- After six hours of discussion and public comment, the City Council adopted a plan to reinvent Santa Monica's formerly-industrial Bergamot area as a residential neighborhood and creative district.

While the Council eventually voted 6 to 1 to approve the 230-page plan -- which seeks to turn the 142-acre area around a future Expo Light Rail station into a place where Santa Monicans can live within walking or biking distance from work -- it did so only after a lengthy discussion about affordable housing, green space and traffic.

Only Councilmember Kevin McKeown voted against the plan – which was some three years in the making -- after his proposal to require developers of the largest projects in the area to provide affordable housing above and beyond what the City already requires failed to gain traction amid concerns that it could undermine efforts to create much-needed housing in the area.

With one of the primary goals of the Plan to create a neighborhood where residents who work nearby can live, the Council did agree to require “deeper” affordability from developers who hope to qualify for density bonuses that would allow them to build outside of the zoning restrictions.

“If people want to get the density bonus, they will have to produce affordable housing,” said Councilmember Gleam Davis, who worried McKeown’s proposal would have the unintended consequence of discouraging housing.

Davis called the density bonuses an imperfect solution, since they would only apply to developers of small or mid-sized projects. But she pointed out that the Council ultimately has discretion over the largest projects and could require more affordable housing on a case-by-case basis.

Davis and the other council members did support the idea of exploring the possibility of adjusting the City's affordable housing requirements within in the district, but only if a study were done that showed what the impact of that decision might be.

The amount of affordable and workforce housing in the area is intimately tied the issue of traffic since, planners maintain, if people can afford to live within walking or biking distance from work, they will.

“Generally, new development will add cars,” said Peter James, senior strategic planner. But, he said that the goals set forth in the plan include aggressive measures to “regulate employers to force them to reduce trips.”

It will help that any new development in the area will be walking distance from the Expo Line station at 26th and Olympic Boulevard once the train starts running to Santa Monica in 2016.

While some question exactly how much of an impact the train will have on the number of motorists in the area, Expo -- which has operated for since April 2012 between Downtown L.A. and Culver City -- averaged more than 25,000 commuters daily in the month of August.

Still, the Council called for the plan to require that new housing coming online be marketed aggressively to both workers in the Bergamot Area and in Santa Monica in general, especially teachers and first responders, to help cut back on the number of daily commuters into the city.

Another major issue discussed at Tuesday's meeting was whether or not the plan goes far enough to require green space.

“Part of the vision is to try to acquire a larger park space,” James said, but added that it stops short of explicitly designating property as park space.

City Attorney Marsha Moutrie said that because almost all of the property in the area is privately owned, the City couldn't do that.

“To acquire private space for public use would require negotiations,” she said.

However, the plan does set forth as a goal the development of park space and, planners said, that would inform negotiations with developers and future employers in the area.

McKeown remained unsatisfied.

“Being the sole no vote on a vision I share in principle was painful,” he told The Lookout after the meeting. “But affordable housing, parks, and traffic are what residents indicated they care about, and those issues were not satisfactorily resolved.”

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