A Santa Monica-based bio-technology company specializing in the research and development of cancer treatment has received the backing of city leaders for its plan to consolidate operations into one larger site near a future light rail station.
The Santa Monica City Council voted 5-1 Sept. 14 to approve a development agreement with Agensys, Inc. and adopt a mitigated negative declaration for the consolidated bio-technology facility at 1800 Stewart St. at Bergamot Station. Under the project, the site would be expanded by about 31,000 square feet and combined into a single facility near the planned Metro Exposition Line Bergamot station — in an area identified as the Bergamot Transit Village District of the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE).
Agensys, which has been in Santa Monica since 1997, would take over the lease currently occupied by the Lionstone Group.
City staff noted how the project’s location next to the future light rail stop allows for opportunities to achieve important goals stated in the LUCE plan, such as reducing the parking supply and relying on an aggressive transportation management program.
Staff also pointed out that a key community benefit with the agreement would be retaining a locally based, state-of-the-art company that is dedicated to improving cancer treatment.
“I think this is a real asset to our community to bring a business like this that already exists in the community, and to give them an opportunity not only to remain in the community but to grow within the community,” City Councilwoman Gleam Davis said. “One of the things we don’t have a lot of in Santa Monica is the biotech industry.”
Agensys officials said one of the company’s goals is to be able to continue its work fighting cancer in Santa Monica.
“Agensys is seeking to develop a state-of-the-art research and development and manufacturing facility to serve as its long-term home and to continue its mission in Santa Monica,” said Dale Goldsmith, an attorney representing Agensys.
Goldsmith described the bio-technology company as not a developer, but rather a city-based company that is performing cutting-edge research in the treatments for cancer.
“Our sole interest in this property is for us to build the kind of special facilities we need to conduct our cancer research,” Agensys Executive Vice President Paul Kanan told the council.
The project proposes a variety of community benefits including a publicly accessible pedestrian pathway allowing for connection to the planned light rail station; publicly accessible passive open space; a widened sidewalk; a café and a sculpture garden. Also proposed is a local hiring program with a job fair, student tours and a student internship program.
A main community desire pushed by residents at meetings was the inclusion of a public bicycle path through the development site as a way to offer a new bike connection to Michigan Avenue.
According to LUCE, the Bergamot district focuses on enhancing circulation and transportation with pedestrian, vehicular and transit improvements. One of the proposed features is the Exposition Bike Path, which is on a dedicated rail right-of-way adjacent to the Agensys site and is slated to become a premier east-west bike pathway for the area.
After exploring cycling advocates’ recommendation for a bike path through the site, company officials determined that they couldn’t safely accommodate the pathway. The bike path would have required a project redesign, including moving buildings and removing parking, resulting in significant delays, according to the company.
Some of those who backed the addition of a bike path expressed disappointment with the loss of the potential amenity, though they support the company’s work.
“For Santa Monica, Agensys is both an accomplishment and somewhat of a missed opportunity,” said Richard McKinnon, referring to a missed chance to support an alternative method of transportation as expressed in the LUCE.
Kent Strumpell of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition said the cycling community is not opposed to the project, but they encourage the City Council to do as much as possible for cycling in the Bergamot area and to help create a direct connection to Michigan Avenue.
In support of transit improvements for bicycle access in the area, Agensys will contribute $70,000, and the City Council also recommended the company provide an additional $20,000 for bike studies and improvements. Councilman Kevin McKeown, a key supporter of bicycling issues, said the city heard loud and clear from the cyclists but he believes a solution was reached to satisfy bicycle network needs.
Mayor Bobby Shriver, the lone council member to vote against the development agreement, was critical of the proposal for not requiring that some jobs be offered to Santa Monica residents.
“The deal being brought to us has not one single job in it,” Shriver said. “I would like to suggest that there be some guaranteed jobs in exchange for our lease extension.”
Goldsmith responded that although employees need some type of technical experience, the company is committed to hiring locally and officials believe the package of public benefits offered is very attractive.
Broad Art Museum site alternatives
In other actions, the City Council directed staff to prepare a notice inviting proposals for creative uses or other facilities at the Civic Center site where the Broad Foundations had considered building a public contemporary art museum.
The Broad Foundations, led by billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad and his wife Edythe, had considered Santa Monica along with Beverly Hills and downtown Los Angeles as possible locations for a museum to house their collection. The collection includes about 2,000 artworks by more than 200 renowned artists such as Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali.
After three years of evaluating locations, the Broads announced last month that the proposed 120,000 square foot museum will be built on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles.
Following the Broads’ selection of Los Angeles, Santa Monica Councilman Richard Bloom submitted a motion calling for the city to explore other options for the Civic Center location. Bloom said Sept. 14 that the process “created a model for what might happen at the Civic Center” and he wanted to make sure the city was moving forward on exploring the benefits of the site.