The city does not intend to destroy the arts center, but resisting all change isn’t an option either

By Kevin McKeown

Santa Monica City Councilman Kevin McKeown

Santa Monica City Councilman Kevin McKeown

The author is a Santa Monica City Councilmember responding to “Bergamot Must Die,” an opinion piece by Charlies Rappleye that ran in the May 19 edition of the Argonaut.

Mr. Rappleye skillfully culled quotes to make his point, while failing to offer readers any context. Some of the relevant background, which explains more fairly the situation at Bergamot, is in this statement I sent to residents and other constituents who’ve contacted me recently about the issue:

Thank you for your interest in the future of the Bergamot Arts Center. I am a five-term councilmember who for over a decade served as the City Council’s designated liaison to the Santa Monica Arts Commission.

Many of those who’ve written seem to have the impression the Arts Center is threatened with being replaced by a commercial development. That is not the situation.

Bergamot Arts Center was created two decades ago on land bought with transportation funding to accommodate a future light rail facility. We in Santa Monica were thrilled when the interim use, letting old industrial buildings be used for art galleries, succeeded beyond expectations and the Bergamot Arts Center gained international renown.

This month, a $1.5-billion regional transportation investment brings light rail service to the newly constructed Bergamot Station. This means more people arriving at the Arts Center than ever before. It also means that after two decades of “interim” use, we are tasked with making the Arts Center permanent.

Our lease with the prior operator is about to expire. We are planning to build a museum space to replace the Santa Monica Museum of Art, which we invited to return after the owner of the property adjacent to city land raised their rent beyond what they could pay. They have chosen to relocate to downtown Los Angeles, instead. Other improvements are necessary to adapt the current facilities on the site to a new role as a light rail hub, not an out-of-the-way parcel of land “on hold.”

Further, we must now confront our responsibility to not only protect the Bergamot Arts Center, but create revenue-generating operations on the site so we can generate funds for transportation purposes, which our originally having purchased the land with transportation money now requires us to do.

Clearly this is a daunting task, with many interests to be balanced. We have had an inclusive public process underway for several years. That stalled about a year and a half ago when it became clear consensus on moving forward had not yet been achieved. Visit to see and hear my thoughts on that point in September 2014.

Since then, we HAVE switched partners, and we HAVE convened a community committee to advise us that included many of the gallerists at Bergamot. The matter will return to the City Council at some point, although a date has not yet been set (and therefore all the letters we’ve been receiving are somewhat premature).

Unfortunately, some participants in the process have hardened their stand that the answer is to resist all change and do nothing. That is simply not an option for the city of Santa Monica. We already are years behind in planning for Bergamot Station. The train, as of May 20, is already here.

I can assure you that I have heard your concerns, but also that the facts are somewhat less dire than many of you seem to have been led to believe. There is no intent to destroy Bergamot Arts Center. Whatever the city eventually decides to do, it will be with sensitivity
to the benefits we already enjoy from what is at the Bergamot Arts Center … but doing nothing to accommodate light rail and fulfill the transportation funding obligation is simply not an option that’s open to us.

Editor’s Note: The Argonaut made slight changes to the text of McKeown’s original email in order to clarify web links and chronology for our
print readers.