June 2, 2015
RE: Planning Commission Agenda Item 9A:
Dear Planning Commissioners:
Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City strongly opposes the proposed 12-story,148-foot-tall project between 4th and 5th on Arizona.
This massive 420,000-square foot, mixed-use project would be nearly as big as Santa Monica Place and it will be significantly higher. It is in the heart of Santa Monica’s already gridlocked downtown, spanning a full city block and constitutes one of the largest publicly funded site acquisitions in Santa Monica’s history (over $100 million dollars for properties at Arizona/ 4th and 5th Streets).
Public ownership of such a major downtown site by the City imposes special responsibilities: The site should be developed compatibly with its neighboring surroundings and equally important, the new project should create uses that Santa
Monica needs and residents support.
Unfortunately, the current proposal resembles the failed 2005 proposed Santa Monica
Place project and the rejected Hines project, both of which were successfully opposed
by residents. This new, primarily commercial project is massive, out of scale and ignores residents’ widely expressed opposition to its height, density and increase in traffic congestion. Currently the site houses parking lots and two banks. If built,
the project will be a major traffic generator in an area already rife with traffic congestion
Residents’ opposition to huge, new downtown developments that would be exempt from
zoning limitations and would generate more traffic is real, it’s resolute and it’s a fact.
Last year, to better gauge residents’ views about the appropriate heights and densities in our downtown, the City Council commissioned a scientific survey of residents (City of Santa Monica: 2014 Development Survey). The result: by well over a 2:1 margin, randomly surveyed residents, young and old, citywide said they wanted downtown to be within existing zoning and were opposed to taller heights and greater densities even for “architecturally distinctive” hotels. Residents wanted less, not more traffic downtown and rejected “community benefits” as justification for increased downtown heights and densities.
The community process thus far regarding the downtown (and so-called “opportunity sites”) has shown that residents have decisively claimed the downtown as theirs, not a place primarily for tourists (with residents adding an authentic touch as city consultant Torti Gallas infamously wrote in a 2013 report concerning the downtown real estate market outlook). Santa Monicans view the downtown’s low-slung identity as essential to the rest of Santa Monica and as something our city government is obligated to protect, not exploit. (A copy of SMCLC’s March 5, 2014 letter summarizing the downtown survey is attached).
Last year, residents also successfully rose up against the Hines project that proposed a predominantly office campus in an already gridlocked corridor that would have resulted in over 7,000 additional daily car trips despite the new Expo line that will run across the street.
Given this background (and the overabundance of office space we already have with its tremendous traffic impacts), it is hard to take seriously this latest proposal that actually INCREASES the amount of office space (a big traffic generator).
Additionally and significantly, the proposed project also reduces the overall public open space in favor of greater privatized open space for office and hotel users and adds a traffic generating use — more public parking spaces in the heart of our downtown — that will exacerbate the existing traffic problems.
As to the height and density: It’s still much taller at 12 stories and 148 feet than anything around it, including our beloved historic post office building, and it violates the latest draft downtown building requirements in multiple ways (maximum heights, number of stories, FAR, and maximum floor plate ratios) — in order to offer hotel guests an unimpeded view of the Ocean.
It’s clear from the downtown survey that residents don’t share this vision or this mix of uses on our public land. Indeed, one is left wondering, why does the City pay to commission these studies if the results are only to be disregarded?
Our City has an overabundance of commercial office and retail space. Adding more in the form of a building fortress that will eclipse everything around it is merely a revenue generator without meeting a demonstrated public need. Our city is in sound financial shape. We want our city government to live within its budget means, not partner with the biggest developer around in order to chase new revenue streams with massive developments that inevitably require more staff, more police and fire personnel, and ever more infrastructure demands, including water, now becoming a scarce resource.
Approving this project would send a powerful signal to other developers with projects in the downtown now and in the future that our City’s zoning and building regulations are not enforceable and will be waived Development Agreement by Development Agreement. The result will be a downtown vastly taller, denser and more gridlocked than residents have said they want. We will lose the defining character of what we love about Santa Monica.
Last year the City Council erred in not requiring this developer to respond to the community’s widespread opposition to this project by not insisting that the developer also generate an alternative project that would be consistent with the draft downtown plan and LUCE.
It’s not too late to rectify that error: We urge you to require concept drawings for a zoning/LUCE compliant project. But regardless of what you Planning Commissioners or the City Council does, any environmental impact report for any project on this site must fully and adequately analyze a project alternative that complies with the zoning code and LUCE. As our decision-makers, you must also weigh the greater environmental benefits of a superior project, one that IS consistent with our land use policies and compatible with Santa Monica.
Victor Fresco, Diana Gordon, Sherrill Kushner, Jeff Segal