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The Santa Monica City Council: Bob Holbrook (clockwise from back left), Tony Vazquez, Ted Winterer, Kevin McKeown, Gleam Davis, Pam O'Connor, and Terry O'Day.
Mirror Archives
The Santa Monica City Council: Bob Holbrook (clockwise from back left), Tony Vazquez, Ted Winterer, Kevin McKeown, Gleam Davis, Pam O'Connor, and Terry O'Day.

News, City Council, Development, Santa Monica, Columnist, Politics

What Say You? Hines & The Santa Monica City Council

Susan Cloke, Columnist
Santa Monica Mirror Archives
Susan Cloke, Columnist

Posted Feb. 8, 2014, 6:59 am

Susan Cloke / Mirror Columnist

What actually happened at the Tuesday night’s Santa Monica City Council meeting? First, by a 4 to 3 vote the Hines Development Agreement was approved. Second, will this meeting and this decision be remembered as the signal for a ‘taking back’ of the Council and the passage of new ethics laws in Santa Monica, as promised by the speakers in opposition?

First, the Development Agreement. The Staff Report describes applicant Hines 26th Street LLC’s proposal as a “mixed-use project totaling 765,095 square feet consisting of 473 rental housing units, 25 artist work/live units, approximately 15,500 square feet of restaurant space, and approximately 13,891 square feet of retail space at 1681 26th Street; Certify the final environmental Impact Report prepared for the project in accordance with CEQA; and adopt a Resolution adopting the Mitigation Monitoring Program, Necessary CEQA Findings, and Statement of Overriding Considerations for the project.”

Councilmember Gleam Davis’ initial motion for approval included reducing the square footage of office space by some 47,000 square feet in order to have the project be 50 percent housing and 50 percent office with a commensurate reduction in parking. Along with other modifications including making the affordable housing prices more realistically affordable, adding inflation indexes, and defining the net zero energy requirements. Councilmember O’Day seconded Davis’ motion.

City Attorney Marsha Moutrie then informed the Council that the appropriate action would be to direct Staff to make the required changes and to return to Council with a revised Staff Report for a new First Reading of the revised Development Agreement.

Davis and O’Day were both concerned with the timing of the vote and were focused on having a project approval at the Feb. 4 meeting.

Council member Davis explained why she thought the Council should act to approve the project. She saw the approval as necessary because she thought the alternative would be the ‘reoccupying’ of the existing buildings on site and the traffic that would bring.

She said she had hoped to put forth a motion that would allow for a compromise and when it was clear that wasn’t happening she wanted to have an approval that night and so would make a motion that didn’t require any time delay in voting for approval.

Davis’ next motion eliminated the 42,000 square feet of reduction in commercial and the commensurate reduction in parking as those two modifications would require a new hearing. The motion continued to include modifications to affordable housing rates, and advanced marketing requirements to first responders, nurses, and teachers. The motion also required the AVR (average vehicle ridership) for the office space to be 2.0.

Council members Ted Winterer, Tony Vazquez, and Kevin McKeown did not support either of council member Davis’ motions. They continued to be concerned about traffic impacts, meeting the LUCE commitment for no net impact on PM trips, affordable housing, improving the jobs/housing ratio in the City, issues of environmental sustainability, and the corporate image of the architectural design as proposed not expressing the values of the Bergamot Area Plan nor of a ‘Village’ as the project describes itself.

The vote was called. Yes votes from Davis, O’Day, Pam O’Connor, and Bob Holbrook gave the developer the approval he wanted. But what did it give the City?

If we listen to the comments made by the overflow audience, filling the Council Chamber and the downstairs City Hall lobby at both the Jan. 28 and the Feb. 4 meetings we can expect challenges on all fronts.

Most telling was the SMRR letter urging the Council to vote against the project. The letter was backed up by the presence of Denny Zane and Patricia Hoffman who took the podium to speak publicly against the project. Zane was particularly concerned about housing. Given that Hoffman is the current Co-Chair of SMRR and Zane a SMRR policy and decision maker of many years standing this was a significant action by SMRR.

Davis, O’Day, and O’Connor won their elections with SMRR support. Given the importance of a SMRR endorsement in Santa Monica can we expect SMRR to not endorse and campaign for Davis, O’Day and O’Connor in the future? At the very least we know it means there will be quite a fight within SMRR on upcoming Council endorsements.

SMRR leaders weren’t the only heavy hitters in Santa Monica opposing the project. Leaders of all the neighborhood groups, representing the official positions of the groups, spoke against approval of the Development Agreement.

Audience members were predominately against approval but there were many supporters as well. Many people spoke in favor of the affordable housing component of the project. Contractors groups and Union groups spoke in favor of jobs that would be coming with this project knowing that the Development Agreement allowed for 10 years of construction and pointed out that this would provide good jobs. Respected early childhood educators spoke in favor of the financial community benefit promised for early childhood education as part of the Development Agreement.

Now that there is an approval, what’s next? Speakers promised a referendum on the project for the upcoming elections and the election of new Council Members.

Leaders of the Santa Monica Transparency Project, an organization focused on ethical reforms for donation reporting and voting rules, pointed out that Mayor O’Connor’s election debt had been paid by Hines and Hines associates and asked that she therefore recuse herself from the vote on the Development Agreement for the Hines project.

Mayor O’Connor asked the City Attorney for a legal opinion. The City Attorney confirmed that O’Connor was not required to recuse herself under Santa Monica law.

Transparency Project leaders and other speakers asked O’Connor to voluntarily recuse herself on ethical grounds even though she was not legally required to do so.

Really? What a mess. And my question is why did it have to be a mess. This should have been a great opportunity for the City. It’s not a bad project description, mixed use, affordable housing, open space, good new street improvements, good community benefits. But, as always, the devil is in the details.

What’s wrong with the project? In an overall way the project is out of sync with the scale and character of Santa Monica. It’s too big for the neighborhood where it’s located. It lacks urban politeness. The architectural design is corporate but the project description is all about creativity and art and sustainability and being cutting edge. The descriptive language is there but the architectural drawings don’t match the language.

There are significant negotiation flaws, especially in that it allows the developer to build most of the creative office space without requiring that a proportional amount of housing be developed at the same time. The affordable housing component is good but needs considerable refinement. How did this project get so far without these questions being asked and answered?

So we need to ask, ‘who’s minding the store?’ The Council is responsible for directing City Staff and the final say is with the Council. That is, until the voters have their final say and really that is what was promised last night at the council meeting.

In a poignant end to the meeting they adjourned in memory of Betty Mueller and Ann Hillard. Both Mueller and Hillard were long time Santa Monica activists, both were SMRR members, and both cared deeply about the City and its people. I miss them already.

What Say You?

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Comments

Feb. 8, 2014, 7:54:20 am

Daniel JB Mitchell said...

A similar development in Redondo led to major political fallout. You can read about it in this chapter from California Policy Options: 2006: http://issuu.com/danieljbmitchell/docs/heart

Feb. 8, 2014, 11:02:28 am

Maryanne LaGuardia said...

Nice article, Susan. Like others I wonder how it got so far -- to Council vote -- with so many problems and unanswered questions.

Feb. 8, 2014, 12:08:02 pm

mayor jobba said...

Does anyone remember the city of Bell, CA a few years ago? An investigation revealed corruption , bribes and exorbitant salaries of city councilors and the mayor? Don't you think it's worth a look at our mayor and council who seem so pro-development (money interests) and against practically everything their constituents demand?

Feb. 8, 2014, 1:44:01 pm

jubidee said...

Is it power? perks? or immunity from intelligence? The whole U.S.! is mocking you. Can't you AT LEAST issue INDIVIDUAL !!! reasons why you vote FOR? Rerminder; you work for US, not vice-versa. Say SOMETHING!

Feb. 8, 2014, 10:30:03 pm

a resident said...

Good article. one of the reasons often given by the council members who voted for this project is that the city has to accommodate future growth. No one has said what the goal is. Is it 120k or more? The day time population is often quoted as 250k to 300k. Those supporting these projects say they are needed to solve the jobs-housing in ballance. So is all this new development going to be approved untill the in balance is gone - tell the population is 250-300k or when the market tells developers that new projects are no longer viable. Where is the water coming from to support this growth. Do these projects provide on going sustainable revenues to cover the costs they will impose on the infrastructure - sewers, trash collection, police, fire, schools, electrical etc. How is all this growth making the city more sustainable? The new bike and rail projects have been implemented at the expense of current traffic capacity. Expo could have been built elevated to preserve lane capacity on colorado. the way it is now the train will go slow and the cars will go slow - how is that smart transportation planning?

Feb. 8, 2014, 10:39:53 pm

concerned said...

a year or so ago there was an item at the city council meeting to have council members announce if they are conflicted with an item on the agenda because they have received funding from project sponsors. McKuen and some other members said they would vote for the disclosure, but it was defeated by the majority . It would be interesting to compare the votes on the Hines project with the votes on the item requiring disclosure of those receiving funds and to recuse themselves if they had...

Feb. 19, 2014, 12:27:50 pm

Rachel Harms said...

This development needs to be stopped - its going to generate 7,000 new cars per day into our already congested streets. Referendum Petitions are circulating now to put this project on hold and up for a vote in our next election. Go to residocracy.org to find out where you can sign if you are a Santa Monica voter. The Hines project is just too big for Santa Monica!

Feb. 20, 2014, 1:17:24 pm

Jon Mann said...

This issue is not just about development, or the Hines project; it is also about who is benefiting from increasing revenues that will reward candidates who toady to the powerful city employee associations, and SM Renters Rights in the hope of getting their endorsements. What this article doesn't mention is there are very few candidates who dare to talk about the elephant in the room for fear of losing their chance to receive those endorsements. I will support any candidate that (1) supports a moratorium on ALL development not approved by the residents who are impacted, (2) getting rid of LUCE, (3) is willing to speak out against cronyism, conflict of interest and (4) who is willing to name any SMRR members who are employed by the city at six figure salaries, or receiiving consultant fees.. I have been trying to find out for some time, but SMRR will not release the names of their members to me so I can find out who works for the city, OR receives consultant fees, etc. I do know that present and ex-members of the City Council have, and are, feeding at the public trough. I asked Kevin McKeown how much he makes working for SM/MUSD and he won't tell me how much he earns hourly or annually. He has not denied that he has ever made over 6 figures in any one year, only that he does not receive benefits. I would like to know what benefits sitting council members receive, and if any SMRR members are in low income public housing? As long as these egregious conflicts of interest continue without transpareny and accountability, the coalition between developers, SMRR and City Employees will continue to determine who gets elected. It is VERY difficult to investigate the conflict of interest and cronyism in this city... I do know I have made a LOT of enemies for asking these kinds of questions, where other candidates dare not tread... I'm Jon Mann and I approve this message!~)

Feb. 21, 2014, 5:51:57 am

Joel Koury said...

Betty Mueller would have started collecting signatures to overturn the Council's vote that evening. If we really want to recognize her's and Ann Hillard's contributions to our city we would grab a clip board and begin circulating Residocracy petitions right now and say NO thank you to the Hines corporation's 6000 new cars on our streets.

Feb. 26, 2014, 4:15:15 pm

Maureen Antonio said...

Any of the four Santa Monica City Council members who voted for this Hines Development Agreement won't have my vote next election. I'm sure many Santa Monica residents feel the same way. They're clearly not concerned with our city's best interests and quality of life.

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