Residents opposed to the Bergamot Transit Village project cited a variety of reasons why they feel that the proposed development will not better their neighborhoods at a Dec. 8 community forum, but the common thread throughout the evening was the perceived cumulative effect the large scale mixed-use project and pending developments would have on traffic, quality of life and infrastructure.
Questions about the application of the recently approved Land Use and Circulation Element, commonly known by its acronym LUCE, were also raised by residents after learning that the complex could stretch as high as eight stories.
The LUCE is a zoning and planning framework that encompasses land use, urban design and transportation uses in Santa Monica for the next 20 years.
In addition to the nearly 1 million square foot, six story, sprawling mixed-use complex that is being proposed by the Hines Group, a five-story post-production facility and a 3.85-acre mixed-use project are being proposed on Colorado Avenue next year, as well as another mixed-use complex with 135,000 square feet of office space and 84 residential units are in the planning stages.
A three-story, 91-unit artist lofts project is also in the works, but its environmental impact report has been suspended per the applicant’s request.
In February, Planning Director Eileen Fogarty acknowledges the anxiety that some residents are feeling over the proposed Hines plan. Most of the projects in the pipeline have not reached the stage of being recommended for environmental analysis, she pointed out.
“We realize that people have a concern about a number of the projects,” Fogarty told The Argonaut. “Everything is proceeding at a very slow pace right now, and most do not have environmental review (yet).
“Many are ‘float ups’ or projects that have not received any formal direction.”
City planning officials presented scant new information about the project at the community meeting, and the purpose of the meeting was to hear from the California Environmental Quality Act expert, Carrie Garlett of the environmental firm PBS& J, who will be charged with the environmental analysis of the Bergamot Transit Village project.
The project, as proposed by Hines, would be built at the site of the former Paper Mate factory north of Olympic Boulevard. City planning officials and the developer say it would be an ideal fit for the pending Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Mid-City/Exposition Transit Project, which is slated to arrive in Santa Monica in 2016 with a stop at Bergamot Station as well as two other locations.
The developers have focused on what they see as a long-term benefit of luring local workers to live in the residential component of the complex, which in turn could help to alleviate congestion near the transit corridor and other areas of the city. Hines Senior Vice President Colin Shepherd has stated publicly that he would especially like to attract firefighters, police officers and teachers from Santa Monica to the complex, which will also offer space for the arts.
“We will target those who work in the area,” Shepherd told the audience at a December 2009 meeting. “When there is a person working in the nearby area that can walk to work, the (car) trip that would have been generated no longer exits.”
Another potential enticement that Hines believes could make the development more attractive to environmentally-conscious Santa Monicans is that the project has Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification (LEED).
LEED certification is the nationally recognized standard for measuring sustainability, according to the National Resources Defense Council.
“It seems as though everything is cascading right now with all of the projects that are being proposed right now,” said Steven Kandell, who lives in nearby Stewart Park, naming three other projects that are being proposed with several blocks of the Bergamot project. “It’s nearly impossible to negotiate Olympic Boulevard at certain times of the day because it’s hopeless.
“I can’t even imagine what it will look like if these projects are built,” Kandell continued. “You might as well just hunker down and grow your own food and never leave your home, because it will be impossible to get around the neighborhood.”
Others expressed concerned about the height of the planned project. Special Projects Manager Jing Yeo of the Planning Department said the draft environmental impact report (DEIR) had been released and the final environmental analysis would take all possible development standards, including setbacks, density and height, into consideration.
“The EIR will analyze the worst case scenario of seven to eight stories,” Yeo told the audience.
The LUCE guidelines for the maximum potential height in the district where the project site is located is 81 feet. “So the project could potentially reach that height,” Yeo cautioned. “But it is certainly not expected that the project will be that height.”
John Murdock, a CEQA attorney who has lived for 40 years in Sunset Park, remembered coming to Santa Monica in 1970 from the East Coast. “I was a lot different then,” Murdock recalled.
One resident who was not present spoke favorably of the project in December 2009 when it was presented for the first time.
“It seems to me that there’s a balance of spaces for creative arts and housing, and bike and pedestrian friendly access,” said Jerry Rubin, a longtime Santa Monica environmental activist at the December 2009 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 Santa Monica Coalition For A Livable City, a local group that has questioned recent large scale developments that often put them at odds with city leaders, filed an objection to the city’s EIR for the Hines project Dec. 10, claiming that the environmental analysis is being “piecemealed,” a legal term that means separating a large project into many little ones, each with a minimal potential impact on the environment, which cumulatively may have disastrous consequences, according to CEQA guidelines.
As other activist, slow-growth development groups have done, the coalition is also calling for a master plan of the entire area before the project is built.
“This proposed development does not follow established city and state rules regulating how projects in Santa Monica are supposed to be approved,” the coalition wrote in a letter to the Argonaut. “CEQA prohibits a project from being broken into smaller pieces and studied in isolation from the rest of the project to minimize theenvironmental impacts.
“Here, the entire ‘project’ under CEQA includes 140 acres of prime industrial land for which the city has not yet prepared master plan. Until such aplan is completed, there can be no meaningful review or public comment about the suitability of the Hines project.”
The group chastised its elected city leaders and pledged that they will remain vigilant as the project goes through the city planning channels before it arrives in front of the council.
“Santa Monica City Council members may want to approve whatever a developer wants, but there are rules they must follow,” the letter states. “We will be there to ensure that they do and, most importantly, that Santa Monica residents are heard loud and clearabout massive developments that impact our quality of life.”
Murdock encouraged residents to take their complaints and concerns about Bergamot Station Village to the city council. “They are the ultimate decision makers, so start talking to them,” he urged.
“Ask them, ‘what are your limits? What is the (development) saturation point?’”Shepherd, who attended the Dec. 8 meeting, did not return calls for comment.