The Question Before Us: Bergamot Station Development

Friday, 28 Feb 2014, 8:53:00 AM

Letter To The Editor

Editor's Note: This is an Op-Ed submission from Santa Monica Mayor Pro Tem Terry O'Day and Santa Monica councilwoman Gleam Davis.

This weekend many of you saw petitioners asking for a referendum on

our City Council decision regarding the former Papermate factory, now

owned by Hines. 

Like many decisions affecting our future, it has

generated a broad community discussion. In fact, the discussion about this site took place over eight years. 

The council recently conferred the rights to redevelop the property,

which is currently unoccupied.  In this city, unoccupied buildings do

not stay that way for long, so not developing the

property is not the question before us.

The property is a large part of our eastside and Olympic corridor.

Its 7 acres extend from Stewart to 26th Street along Olympic Boulevard.

A 206,000 square foot former factory occupies the land. Next time you

have a chance, take a

look at the size of this building and the way it bisects our

neighborhoods and cuts off circulation. 

The property is what planning

experts call a “superblock.” Such blocks disrupt the normal grid of our

streets, creating traffic as people circulate around

them. 

This one in particular has no sidewalks or pedestrian

cut-throughs, making it particularly dangerous for bikes, pedestrians

and children who travel around it. It has been abandoned for years, so

although it disrupts our traffic, it does not generate

any traffic of its own today and has not for some time.

Hines Company owns the property today, and without any approval from

the City Council has the right to renovate the existing building, add to

its size, and reoccupy with office space up to roughly 310,000 square

feet. 

For context, the

Water Garden and Colorado Center offices in the neighborhood have over 2

million square feet. They would be required to make only the smallest

of pedestrian improvements and few traffic control measures. The

environmental studies we conducted on the site

found that thousands of trips per day would be generated by

reoccupation.

Our City Council and Planning Commission considered this situation

and with the input of thousands of residents over eight years developed

alternative plans for the area, referred to as the LUCE (Land Use and

Circulation Element) and

Bergamot Area Plan.

We negotiated for six years with the owners of the

property to create something that would serve our community better and

limit the traffic that would come from expanding and reoccupying the

current building.

The result is still a large development. Any 7-acre site is bound to

be. What would be added to the project is about 60,000 square feet of

commercial space, almost 500 units of housing, including for seniors and

disabled residents

– roughly 20% affordable in total – and artist live-work lofts for this

arts district.  Our community has an imbalance of jobs and housing,

which fuels the traffic problems in this area.  Most everyone agrees

that adding housing on this property is a wise

decision.

In exchange for adding mostly housing, our negotiations produced

important benefits in circulation and traffic control that we would not

get in reoccupation. 

First, the superblock is broken and the grid is

restored.  The property owner

grants the rights for three new streets and a pedestrian path through

the site plus 2 acres of open space.  Imagine granting a portion of your

property to the city for the public to pass through – this is no small

concession in itself – but there is more. 

Second, major additional traffic improvements are required for the

site, totaling over $4.7 million, and connecting the property to our new

light rail station, the Bergamot Arts Center, and office and housing to

the north.

The City Council also negotiated the most stringent traffic caps in

any project in the city’s history through a unique mechanism that has

not been used anywhere else in the region to our knowledge. The

property must have a transportation

demand management program that limits the trips in-and-out of the

site. 

If it exceeds the projected trip volumes, it must pay a penalty

to the city per excess trip. The result is 12% fewer peak-period

outbound trips (the notorious afternoon weekdays on Olympic)

from the whole project than the reoccupied site would produce.

The approved project is also 25% less square feet than allowed under

our unanimously-approved general plan, and then there are more

benefits.

The City Council negotiated $11 million for child care

programs throughout the city, $3 million

in public art, $1.4 million for a bike sharing program, and $2 million

for parks, including one that buffers the Expo Line maintenance yard –

an important improvement for the neighborhood.

Our City Council approved the project because the question before us

is not whether to develop the site or not. Rather it is whether we want

to add housing, break up the superblock and create safe, walkable

streets next to the new train

station versus reoccupy a giant building. The question before our City

Council was clear to us: we voted for less traffic, improved pedestrian

safety, housing, parks and open space, and child care funding.

But the petition before our community today sets up a starker

question.  Overturning the City Council decision would send a clear

message to Hines – reoccupy and expand the existing building. 

We fully

support our community democratically

weighing in on this significant change to our eastside, as we have over

eight years of community meetings, studies, and commission and council

deliberation.

A successful referendum, however, would unwind the

negotiated benefits and bring us more traffic. That is now the question before us.

Mayor Pro Tem Terry O'Day

Councilmember Gleam Davis

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