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Reject Bergamot Transit Village, Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights Tells City Council

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

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

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

January 22, 2014 -- A week before the Santa Monica City Council decides the fate of a large mixed-use development in the Bergamot Area, the bayside city’s most powerful political organization wants to kill the project.

In an email Monday, Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) urged the City Council to vote down plans by Texas-based developer Hines to raze the abandoned Papermate factory on 26th Street and replace it with 767,000 square feet of housing, retail and office space.

“The approximately 400,000 sq ft of commercial office space included in the project will be a major new traffic generator,” reads the email, which was signed by SMRR’s co-chairs Patricia Hoffman and Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein.

“The burden will be especially great because the drive cycle of the employees in the office space will be to arrive in the morning and leave in the evening, contributing directly to the worst of the traffic,” the letter reads.

While this isn’t the first time that SMRR has come out against this project, now almost four years in the making, but with the Council decision only days away, the political organization is once again voicing its disapproval. (“Santa Monica's Powerful Renters' Rights Group Wants More Housing at Bergamot Transit Village,” October 22, 2013)

In addition to the commcecial office space, the project, as planned, would place 471 apartments and 27 live/work spaces within walking distance of the a future Expo Light Rail train station, scheduled to open in 2016.

Proponents of the controversial project have argued that Hines’ proposal is a good use of blighted land since it puts jobs and homes so close to public transit.

Still, SMRR remains unconvinced.

“It is true that the Exposition Light Rail project will contribute to a reduction in current traffic and will mitigate some of the new traffic from this project, but neither we nor our community have confidence that this relief will by itself be enough to make this project’s burden tolerable,” the letter reads.

“Nor do we have confidence that the measures intended to mitigate this traffic will be more than modestly effective or reliable over the long term,” it reads.

“As we move forward we urge the Council to commit itself to restraint on major developments that generate significant traffic until our community can adjust to Expo LRT and gauge what capacity remains,” the letter said. “We also urge Council to develop more aggressive community-wide trip reduction strategies so the burdens our community now bears can be reduced.”

SMRR’s aggressive campaign to scuttle the Hines project started shortly after co-founder and public transit advocate Denny Zane returned to the organization’s steering committee.

According to members of SMRR, Zane has been a particularly vocal opponent of Hines’ plans.

The project has proven controversial since its inception about four years ago. The original plans called for a nearly one-million-square-foot complex.

After members of the community balked at the idea of such a large development, Hines agreed to scale it back to the current 767,000 square feet. (“Hines Project Shrinks in Response to Criticism,” August 17, 2011)

Even with the reduction, the project would be one of the largest projects built in the bayside city in decades.

And that has groups other than SMRR concerned. The no-growth group Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) sent out an email to supporters Tuesday titled “When Cities Go Mad,” exhorting people to turn out next Tuesday to speak against the project.

Some residents have even threatened to go to the ballot box if the Council approves the project next week.

Armen Melkonians set up a website recently called The Santa Monica local, who lost his first bid for the City Council last year, hopes to organize residents with his site in support a referendum, should the Council approve the Hines project. (“Hines Development Sparks Talk of Referendum in Santa Monica,” January 21)

In order to try to rescind the Council’s decision, opponents would have to collect some 6,000 signatures within 30 days after the project is approved. Then, the Council would have a chance to change its decision. If it doesn’t, then the issue would go before voters.

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