If all goes as planned, there could soon be a new 148-foot building
in downtown Santa Monica. Then again, considering the current political
climate, a referendum might sprout up before a shovel is ever placed
into the dirt.
One anti-development referendum backed by a grass-roots residence
group already prevented the Hines mixed-use project from moving forward,
and another possible ballot initiative claims to residents a say in
determining the future of the Santa Monica Airport.
Another petition is already actively in the works, coinciding with
the City Council’s decision on June 10 to support a project proposing to
build a 148-foot tall building on public-owned land between Fourth and
Fifth streets (and south of Arizona Avenue).
Council members unanimously opted to figure out how to make the
148-foot proposal work ahead of an alternate 84-foot high proposal.
The 84-foot high building threshold has been a divisive subject for the City Council in recent times.
At this about this time last year, at the June 11, 2013, council
meeting, three council members sponsored a discussion item requesting
their colleagues to direct staff to slow down the public process for
proposed developments who seek to build projects higher than 84 feet, or
six stories. The direction was shot down, as the trio who sponsored the
discussion item could not muster support from another colleague.
Two months later, the City Council supported a plan to restrict
studies for the Downtown Specific Plan’s Environmental Impact Report
(EIR) to proposed developments of up to 84 feet.
In the same vote in August 2013, the council also indicated
developers seeking to build a project to Santa Monica exceeding 84 feet
in height would have to pay for their own EIR and possibly seek an
amendment to the Downtown Specific Plan. By shifting the cost of the EIR
away from the city and toward the developer, a disincentive might be
established to make future developers potentially think twice about
building a high-rise project in Santa Monica.
Of course, that vote did not establish a height restriction at 84-feet for new buildings to be built in the City.
Still, there is at least one segment of the population that believes
even 84-feet is too high. Many of those voices were at City Hall on June
10, making a case not to have Metropolitan Pacific development built at
During the June 10 council meeting, Metropolitan Pacific’s
representatives requested the council support the 148-foot project ahead
of the 84-foot counterpart, as the larger development would allow the
developer to include more amenities such as affordable housing,
signature architecture, and a wider tax base resulting in more revenues
into City Hall’s coffers.
Interestingly enough, the tax revenues discussion comes at an
interesting time as the City Council prepares to review the Santa Monica
budget for the upcoming Fiscal Year, which, coincidentally, forecasts a
deficit through next summer.
Whether or not the 148-foot project actually becomes a reality still
remains to be seen, as there is a significant public process the
development has yet to go through, including being vetted by the
Planning Commission, discussed by the Architectural Review Board, a
re-evaluated by the City Council.
It is even more important to note that the council’s vote on June 10
was not an approval of the 148-foot project but instead just a request
to focus solely on the proposed elements suggested by that development.
The basic statistics of the 148-foot proposal: 12 stories high,
420,000 square feet in total building space, and mixed use elements such
as a 225-room hotel, 200,000 square feet of commercial work space,
retail, and 48 affordable housing units.
Some of the project’s benefits recognized by council members and City
staff included the creation of new jobs in Santa Monica, green space
elements, and the inclusion of 48 affordable housing units (compared to
just 24 in the 84-foot proposal).
Council member Kevin McKeown stated while the 148-foot proposal had
flaws, the shortcomings were potentially outweighed by the proposed
A couple council members asked whether the amount of office space
could be lessened in favor of additional apartments or hotel units. In
general, residential use generates lesser traffic than office use.
Despite questions of how the 148-foot proposal could be made better
and indications that the council’s action was far from a final decision
on anything, there was a vocal group at City Hall during the meeting
expressing their vocal discontent with the project.
Being on City-owned property, one perspective shared with the council
was that the land would be put to much better use if it were turned
into a park.
Armen Melkonians, founder of Residocracy.org, the grass roots
campaign that road-blocked the Hines development agreement in March,
expressed that perspective to the council.
There is precedent for converting City-owned land into a pricey
public park: the $46-million Tongva Park across the street from City
Whether a park actually arrives at the City-own land between Fourth
and Fifth streets near Arizona remains to be seen, but an online
petition opposing any development on the property has already been
circulation on Residocracy.org.
The online petition echoes some of the opposition to the development
expressed at the June 10 council meeting, including traffic congestion
and a tall building blocking out access to the sun.
For the time being, City Hall and the developer will be working together to hammer out details for the next presented proposal.
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