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Opinion, Letters To The Editor, Santa Monica

Letter To The Editor: Housing Generates Much Less Traffic Than Offices

Posted Mar. 3, 2014, 9:15 am

Letter To The Editor

Dear Editor,

Good public policy demands the ability to be decisive when appropriate, but also the thoughtful willingness to pause, when needed, to learn from new information.

When we adopted Santa Monica’s new Land Use and Circulation Element three and a half years ago, the City Council attempted its best guess as to the ideal ratio of commercial versus residential square footage. 

Since then, both traffic concerns and housing needs have increased. LUCE assumptions certainly deserve to be reconsidered in light of the volumes of significant new information provided by the state-required Hines project Environmental Impact Report.

With the adoption of the LUCE, we assured our community “no net new PM trips.” 

We need to assess whether we are delivering on our promises. The Hines EIR showed that their project will generate 7000 new car trips, and will make mobility worse not only in the short term but as far out as 2030.

That’s one reason I made a motion for an alternative project, all housing above the first floor, rather than intensively traffic-generating office space. 

Housing generates much less traffic than offices, and the traffic flow from housing tends to be in different directions and at different times of day than office employee commuting. 

Housing at the Hines site would not be as likely to exacerbate the already existing snarl from Water Gardens and other unfortunate past planning decisions for office complexes in the immediate area.

There are other reasons why a much more, not slightly more, residential project would have been a better choice for our community.

Since the LUCE was adopted, the state of California has cut off our redevelopment revenue, which for many years had been our primary tool for creating affordable housing.

The Hines project provides too little housing, but worse, unacceptably too little housing at truly affordable prices.

The last-minute minor change on rent levels nibbled gently around the edges.

It was a love bite to the developer, not a substantive improvement that genuinely addressed our serious housing needs.

Where, I’d also ask, is the minimum open space called for in our Bergamot Area Plan?  Hines supporters hail a “new park,” but the one contiguous park-like space in the Hines project would barely qualify for the tiniest tier of Santa Monica parks, about the size of Chess Park. 

Mothers with strollers expecting a usable new playspace for our community’s children will be gravely disappointed. The touted “two acres of open space” at Hines includes traffic-filled streets and the narrow service corridors between buildings.

On open space, affordable housing, and other lasting community benefits, Planning Commission Chair Jennifer Kennedy pointed out that the Hines project fell significantly short of what’s required. 

I watched Kennedy, and others on the Planning Commission, try to negotiate improvements. It became clear the developer was unwilling to yield anything not demanded by the City Council, the ultimate decision-making body on a Development Agreement.

Hines threatened our city: Give us the development we want, or we will deliberately sabotage you with an undesirable reoccupancy of the existing outdated factory building.

The Council majority caved, accepting the project pretty much as submitted by Hines, despite the enumerated shortcomings. Is that being “flexible” with standards, or is it bending over backwards for the developer?

We are confronted with a massive and ungainly project the community simply will not accept, as shown by the grassroots gathering of signatures to overturn the Council majority decision via referendum.

We had the chance to define appropriate transit-oriented development in a place where traffic, housing, and open space were particularly important.

The Council majority abandoned “appropriate,” claiming fear that the developer would walk away from the deal. Such an walk-away hasn’t happened in decades in Santa Monica, but this Hines decision tells other developers that “my way or the highway” threats will succeed with this current Council majority.

Residents retain the power to counter that message and force renegotiation of a far better project.  In this case, with neighbors carrying petitions in the streets, change comes one signature at a time. 

Will yours be one of them?

Kevin McKeown

Santa Monica Council Member

Post a comment


Mar. 3, 2014, 11:14:22 am

laura wilson said...

Join us We are TAKING BACK SANTA MONICA! We Are a Community Network of Santa Monica Residents Who Love Our City And Want To Protect Our Quality Of Life. We Are Currently Working To Pass A Referendum Which Will Overturn City Council's Approval of the Massive, Traffic Clogging, Hines Development Project. Join Us and Help Gather the Signatures Needed to Put the Referendum on the Ballot. Kate Bransfield has referendum packets for you to help circulate ::: Coldwell Banker, 1608 Montana Ave 90403 - 310.395.1133

Mar. 3, 2014, 12:57:30 pm

Thane Roberts said...

Kevin McKeown has been a consistent voice on the Council for the Resident's concerns. This post is no exception. The City needs more housing and doesn't need more traffic, particularly at the most congested entrance to the City. Come November, we need to fill the Council with more like-minded representatives.

Mar. 3, 2014, 2:56:29 pm

Bob Holcum said...

Yes, we the people of Santa Monica need to speak with our votes. Some of these councilors must go. I'm sure there was more than just threats from the developers. Possibly some campaign donations or maybe financing another pro-Hines candidate, lots of things happen in politics behind closed doors.

Mar. 3, 2014, 2:57:03 pm

Jay Gordon said...

Council Member McKeown has written an excellent note about the need to find a petition and sign it: We need to qualify a referendum to pause the City Council's ill-advised decision approving the Hines Project. Thousands of signatures are needed in a very short amount of time. If you are interested in signing or helping to gather signa- tures, please contact Kate Bransfield at 310.395.1133

Mar. 3, 2014, 5:37:50 pm

Louise Steiner said...

Thank you Mr. McKeown for your much needed and informative letter. I have seen you over many many years standing firm on defending what the RESIDENTS who voted for you wanted and want. I am so vey sad that other elected members of the city council turn deaf when the citizens of poor ravished Santa Monica speak…….Thank you

Mar. 5, 2014, 6:59:12 pm

Pete said...

More unfounded allegations of corruption and personal attacks by the "poor ravished" citizens Santa Monica. Do you have any idea how ridiculous that sounds? People need to realize we can disagree with disparaging our neighbors. If your case is strong, then you don't need this crap. In the end, we're all going to lose on this project due to the tactics being practiced by those seeking to stop it. Creating hate and fear to win your cause makes you the Tea Party of Santa Monica. We can be much better than that.

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