MERRY CHRISTMAS! UNMERRY MUDDLE!
A couple of years ago, the City decided to install a mega-housing project in the Civic Center. 364 units — slightly less than half “affordable” rental units, slightly more than half “luxury” condominiums, underground parking, stores, cafes, massive buildings of no distinction, including some that exceed existing height limits. A joint project of the Community Corp. and the Related Companies of Los Angeles, one of America’s largest developers,
“The Village,” as the City named it, has yet to be built, but, if the City has its way, we are in for a plague of “villages,” including the proposed 35-acre “Bergamot Transit Village,” and the proposed 960,000 sq. ft. office/residential/mixed use project at Olympic and 26th Street, with 2,000 parking spaces, “Bergamot Transit Village Center,” and the newly approved revised land use and circulation elements of the General Plan (LUCE) mandates the creation of multiple “urban villages.”
This late-day rush of “villages” in our midst is undoubtedly inspired, in part, by the belief in City Hall that “village” sounds less threatening than, say, a ” 960,000 square foot commercial
Like so many planners’ devices, “urban village” is an oxymoron, but almost any “commercial development” here and now is ominous, given the gridlock that afflicts most streets in Santa Monica.
By Southern California standards, Santa Monica, at eight square miles, with a population that has hovered at about 86,000 people for decades, is a village itself, and the notion of planting “urban villages” here and there in the village of Santa Monica is utterly daft.
Santa Monica is 135 years old. It was complete many decades ago. All the requisite stuff is here: residential neighborhoods, commercial areas, schools, theaters, arts and culture, athletic fields, hospitals, office buildings, parks, and so on. It worked — until the 1980s, when City Hall set about to ”improve” it — by adding more hotels and office buildings, the mosh pit the City calls the Third Street Promenade, and Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica College’s “satellite campuses,” and allowing its two hospitals to virtually consume the mid-city area, and, rather than preserving existing rental apartments, allowing great numbers of them to be displaced by “luxury” condos and then replacing the demolished apartment buildings with new “affordable housing” complexes, and simultaneously eliminating many essential local businesses and services.
Unfortunately, “adding” and “improving” are not synonymous.
Santa Monica has always been a beach town. That’s the primary fact, the shaping element, and the reason many of us are here. But the City has refused to recognize , much less comprehend it, and make it an integral part of the revised LUCE — as throughline, inspiration, object and subject, and has reduced it to mere scenery. “a visitor-serving facility.”
The latest City staff report cited “downtown Santa Monica” as the most “celebrated” section
of our town. Wrong. Downtown Santa Monica is the crassest, and most congested area. The beach remains our most celebrated area — because it’s still intact and functioning, and authentic, the real thing.
Now, having added over 9 million square feet of commercial development in the last three
decades that have, in turn, added chronic conjestion to our streets, and fractured our fine, spare townscape with profoundly mediocre, outsized and overcooked buildings, the City wants to start planting “urban villages” around town.
But it’s already bolluxed the process. The planners spent six years, rather than the
usual two, revising the LUCE, then, literally at the last minute, the Council approved taller and more massive buildings than had been mandated by the draft LUCE. Before the LUCE was complete, the City began working with developers on new projects that seemed left overs from the old big boom era rather than portents of the new “sustainable” era.
Though residents were urged to attend LUCE meetings, public review of new projects was
minimized, and development agreements became the rule. Still, from the moment residents
saw the initial plans for the 960,000 sq. ft. “Bergamot Transit Village Center” with its
2,000 parking spaces last December, they were critical of its sheer size, and concerned about its impacts on traffic in the already congested area. At the same time, they were disturbed by the fact that the City planners and developers had another million square feet of commercial developments in the works in the same area, but had not bothered to do a master plan, showing all the proposed projects and their separate and cumulative effects.
In fact, though the City staff, countless consultants, developers, special interests and residents
have spent six years and untold millions of dollars on LUCE, it remains unfinished and incomplete. Specific plans for downtown Santa Monica, the Civic Center and the “hospital district,” as well as the Bergamot area, have yet to be done. The LUCE today is more paint than mortar.
At the initial public meeting on the Bergamot Transit Village Center a year ago, Zina Josephs, president of the Friends of Sunset Park neighborhood organization, forced traffic consultant Jeff Tumlin, from San Francisco, to modify his claim that the LUCE would generate “no new net car trips” to “no new net PEAK EVENING car trips.” The difference is enormous, and the modified statement was the only significant change in the project plans that residents were shown in the second and most recent meeting on December 7, at which they repeated and amplified their original objections — to the size and scope of the project, the number, size and quality of the nearby projects, the enlarging traffic conjestion and the lack of a comprehensive and coherent plan for the area.
The purpose of the meeting was to collect questions from residents to be addressed in the draft environmental impact report (DEIR). But the number and size of the projects proposed for the immediate area suggest that the City and the developers are, in fact, conjuring nothing less than a Century City West in the last remaining “under-developed area” of Santa Monica, and one DEIR on one project is clearly insufficient.
In fact, the City has a $600,000 grant to do a Master Plan for the area, the sort of plan that should have been included in the LUCE and done before any projects were considered — especially the sort of mega-projects that the City and developers are working on now.
A growing number of residents are now agitating for everything to be put on hold until the Master Plan is completed.
At the moment, nobody seems to like Bergamot Transit Village Center, much less the notion of Century City West — except the planners, the developer Hines, which allegedly paid $73 million for the Papermate property on Olympic, and obviously expects to make a handsome profit, and, possibly, the four Council members who allegedly received campaign contributions this fall from Hines: Pam O’Connor, Terry O’Day, Gleam Davis and Bob Holbrook.
In addition to the lack of a Master Plan for the area, the number and size of the proposed
projects, the traffic crisis, and the grotesque notion of Century City West rising in this legendary beach town, residents are struggling to understand how the Metro light rail, which
is scheduled to arrive here in 2015, will solve the traffic crisis, make Santa Monica more “sustainable” and reduce our “carbon footprint.”
The City claims the light rail will convert drivers to riders, cyclists and pedestrians, but the 35-acre “Bergamot Transit Village” and the 960,000 square foot Bergamot Transit Village Center project and the Metro stations at Bergamot, Memorial Park and Colorado and Fourth, the new mixed use structures that will “complement” the stations and the rise of Century City West will enlarge our carbon footprint, and make Santa Monica less sustainable.
The new mixed use buildings that will be built around the stations will, according to the City theory, provide housing and jobs and stores within walking distance of the light rail. But
people who live, work and shop next to the light rail will have little use for it. And what’s
to become of the buildings now at or near the station sites, and the people who currently live in them? Are they to be demolished and replaced by more environmentally correct structures? And, according to the City’s list of proposed commercial projects, a number of mega-mixed use developments are slated on the light rail line on Colorado Avenue, between Seventeenth and Fourth.
And who’s supposed to ride the light rail anyway? People who live in South L.A. or Culver
City and work here? Shoppers? Surfers? Beach-goers? Tourists? Students? People who live here and work in West L.A., or West Hollywood or Beverly Hills, Hollywood or Burbank or downtown L.A.? Residents who’re going to LACMA or MOMA or Disney Hall or the
Pantages? Are people who live on San Vicente and Fourth expected to walk or bike across town to the light rail rather than drive? How about people who live at Pier and Second?
Your guess is as good as ours, and City officials don’t seem to know any more than we do. Light rail will reduce traffic, they say. But the Big Blue Bus didn’t, and it was far more flexible. About 70 percent of Santa Monica residents who are employed, are employed elsewhere. But, as far as we know, few, if any of them work in Exposition Park, the eastern
terminus of the Metro line.
So here we are with the revised LUCE, that we were told at the outset, six years ago, was our “Constitution,” our means of determining our own destiny for the next two decades, and yet it not only lacks “specific plans” for downtown, the Civic Center, the “hospital district” and the Bergamot area, it has no plans at all for us — beyond walking, biking and
riding the light rail to and fro. And so we become bit players in our