A large-scale project in Santa Monica that has been enveloped in controversy since it was unveiled nearly three years ago is gaining opposition from residents and organizations outside the city who feel that its existence could exacerbate existing troublesome problems on the Westside.

The proposed Bergamot Transit Village project is now drawing interest in Venice and Mar Vista, where opponents claim it will take a toll on the surrounding infrastructure due to its size and density as well as amplify already perilous traffic problems in the region.

Opponents of the 766,094-square foot project, located at the former Papermate site near Stewart Park, say they are increasingly worried about its far-reaching consequences south of the development site.

“The Mar Vista Community Council supports review and comment on the project’s draft environmental impact report by the city of Los Angeles and by its city attorney, City Council, responsible city departments and the California Department of Transportation,” states a motion approved by the community council last month.

“The Mar Vista Community Council recommends careful analysis of the cumulative regional impacts upon the city of Los Angeles, including all pending and anticipated development projects on Council Districts 11 and Five.”

The Hines Group, which is developing the 7.1-acre property, says the project will tie in with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Mid-City/Exposition Light Rail Transit Line. Slated to arrive in Santa Monica in 2016, the rail line will have three stops in the coastal city, including one at Bergamot Station.

The Bergamot Village project is slated to receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

Neighborhood leaders in Santa Monica joined their counterparts from Venice and Mar Vista at a rally outside Santa Monica City Hall March 12 to protest the project.

Diana Gordon, co-chair of the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City, takes pleasure in knowing that residents outside Santa Monica are expressing their worries regarding the Bergamot Village.

“It’s gratifying to know that other communities are saying we’ve had enough with oversized projects that don’t mitigate traffic impacts,” Gordon said. “We think this project is too big for the city’s infrastructure and for the Westside to handle.”

Several Santa Monica neighborhood associations have voiced their objections to the mixed-use development. The Venice Neighborhood Council also submitted a motion that was approved last month with similar language to the Mar Vista motion.

A year ago, the Santa Monica City Council denied the Texas-based development company a design development agreement, but the council approved the contract in August after the developer scaled back the project from nearly 1 million square feet to the current 766,094.

Santa Monica Councilman Kevin McKeown led the vote against the design development agreement and still has concerns about the project.

“I have already voted once against negotiating this project without first understanding the information we’ll gain from a regional planning study that is still underway,” McKeown said. “Until we know more, approving Bergamot Village as proposed could have unintended and unmitigated traffic and other impacts not only on Santa Monicans, but on Westsiders in general.

“I tend to think this project needs to be smaller, with less commercial and proportionally more housing, if we’re to let it go forward.”

The LEED certification is an aspect of the project that longtime Santa Monica resident Jerry Rubin likes about Bergamot Village, as well as its transit-oriented approach. The developers say the project will encourage residents to use the light rail, known as the Expo Line, instead of their cars.

“It seems to me that there’s a balance of spaces for creative arts and housing, and bike and pedestrian friendly access,” Rubin, a community activist, said at an early community meeting. “I think it’s good that it is also a LEED-certified project, even though they are not required by the city to do so.”

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation has reviewed the projected traffic impact analysis of the environmental impact report for Bergamot Village and determined that there are “significant” traffic impacts both for Santa Monica and Los Angeles intersections.

“The city of Santa Monica has identified nine unmitigated intersections within Los Angeles,” Department of Transportation General Manager Jaime de la Vega wrote to Councilman Bill Rosendahl on March 6. “Therefore, it is the recommendation of (this department) that the proposed project only be allowed to move forward if a substantive mitigation strategy can be identified to address the unmitigated traffic impacts with the city of Los Angeles.”

Rosendahl represents Venice and Mar Vista and heads his council’s transportation committee. Walgrove and Rose avenues and Walgrove and Venice Boulevard are two Venice area intersections that were identified with the potential to be affected by Bergamot Village.

De la Vega recommends scaling back Bergamot Village in the event that Santa Monica officials are unable to alleviate the potential traffic burdens.

“If a substantive mitigation strategy cannot be identified, then the project should be reduced in scale or reconfigured in order to address the project-related impacts within the city of Los Angeles,” the general manager wrote.

De la Vega sent a similar letter to Santa Monica planner Jing Yeo.

Another thorny topic is campaign contributions by Hines to members of Santa Monica’s council. Some residents contend that Councilman Terry O’Day and Robert Holbrook are compromised because they accepted in-kind donations from the developer in their 2010 city campaigns. That year, Santa Monicans for Quality Government donated to the campaigns of Councilwomen Pamela O’Connor and Gleam Davis, as well as Holbrook and O’Day.

Santa Monicans for Quality Government was a political organization affiliated with Hines.

O’Connor and Davis have claimed they were unaware of the group’s association with Hines.

“When you have somebody who is going to vote on a project who has had their campaign debts paid off by a developer, that is very disturbing,” said Gordon, referring to O’Connor.

McKeown, who did not take money from developers in his last election, said this is still a concern among many of his constituents.

“On the parallel issue of political contributions, I continue to hear growing concerns about the ‘hidden’ role of such money,” he said. “Even if others don’t wish to decline developer and corporate donations, as I have made my position and practice, I think there’s a way this could be handled.”

McKeown feels the council should adopt a policy to disclose all campaign contributions when there are major policy decisions to be made. The councilman proposed such a policy last year, but only colleague Bobby Shriver voted with him.

March 12 was the final day that the public could comment on the project’s draft EIR.

Hines representatives could not be reached for comment.

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