Santa Monica Lookout
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Crowd Packs Santa Monica City Hall over Hines Development

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 29, 2014 -- Santa Monica's civic spirit was on full display Tuesday night when more than 150 people flocked to City Hall to speak their minds about one of the largest developments proposed for the bayside city in two decades.

While the Council voted unanimously early in the evening to postpone its decision on the Bergamot Transit Village, it listened to the parade of speakers who had turned out to talk about the 767,000 square feet of housing, retail and office space proposed by Texas developer Hines.

Much of the opposition Tuesday focused on the specter of increased traffic that some fear the Bergamot Transit Village will bring.

“Please watch a new youtube documentary on downtown Santa Monica called- 'Unjust in Santa Monica -- Tale of Two Buildings -- Parking Hell Documentary,'” read a flyer one resident distributed in the lobby to the standing-room-only crowd before the meeting.

While the Bergamot Transit Village isn't proposed for Downtown, opponents still worry that the development -- more than half of which is slated to be commercial office space -- would be the “straw that broke the camel's back,” as one speaker told the Council.

Still, proponents of the project -- many of whom were in the crowd Tuesday -- argued that the development would be a vast improvement over the current building, the former Papermate factory.

Chamber of Commerce President Laurel Rosen called attention to the “four acres of on-site open space, streets and sidewalks” that Hines' design would create on the Papermate site.

She also pointed to Hines' commitment of $2 million to build a park in the Pico Neighborhood.

For State Assemblymember Richard Bloom, who helped negotiate the project when he served on the City Council, the stakes were very high.

“The outcome of tonight's debate will define the City's approach to Transit Oriented Development (TOD) and will be closely watched in Southern California and beyond,” he wrote in a letter to the City Council.

“If the opposition to reasonable TOD mixed use development at a critical site like this prevails, it will affect similar proposals across the region,” he wrote.

Another transit advocate, former Santa Monica mayor Denny Zane, disagreed.

“This is not a good example of TOD,” Zane told the Council Tuesday, adding that he would support the project if all the commercial office space were replaced by housing.

In the days leading up to the meeting, Zane spearhead opposition to the project, rallying Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) -- one of the city's most powerful political organizations -- to speak out at the meeting.

Along with the no-growth group Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC), SMRR and other opponents flooded the press with their protests.

One message claimed that the city's water supply couldn't handle the new development while another alleged that the project's environmental impact report failed to take into account that traffic would slow down paramedic and firefighter response time.

One group called for Santa Monica Mayor Pam O’Connor to recuse herself from Tuesday’s vote because in 2008, the group claims, Hines “executives acted collectively to retire council member (now Mayor) O'Connor's campaign debt,” the email reads.

O’Connor said that it is true that some who worked for the company made donations -- in increments of no more than $250 each, the limit set by City statute -- to her campaign after she had won.

But, according to the City Attorney, O’Connor had met her legal obligation by reporting the donations and was not required to recuse herself from the vote.

O’Connor said, “I don’t trade promises for campaign contributions. I lay out what my world view is and what my perspective is and people go from there.”

In 2006 and 2010, O’Connor also enjoyed the political and financial support of SMRR.

The City Council will pick up the issue at a special meeting on February 4, O'Connor told the crowd Tuesday. The Council is expected to vote on the project then.

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