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
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
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
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
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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