What Say You? Hines & The Santa Monica City Council

Saturday, 8 Feb 2014, 6:59:00 AM

Susan Cloke

Susan Cloke, Columnist
Santa Monica Mirror Archives
Susan Cloke, 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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