A few days ago, the Planning Commission voted 6 to 1 to recommend that City Council approve a development agreement for a seven-story (84 foot) mixed-use apartment building at 500 Broadway, formerly Fred Segal. This development by DK Broadway LLC, designed by Koning Eizenberg Architecture is a classic example of everything that’s wrong with our planning process and why it must be changed from top to bottom.

This 301,830 square foot project will features 249 high-end apartments, 35,428 square feet of ground floor commercial space and a four level subterranean garage with 524 parking spaces.

Six out of seven planning commissioners couldn’t contain their enthusiasm for the project – one of the larger developments proposed in the Downtown-adjacent neighborhood in recent years. Obviously, the prime reason for their euphoria is the developer’s promise to build 64 units of 100 percent affordable housing in a new, dedicated five floor (55 foot) structure at 1626 Lincoln Blvd.

In return for permission to construct this overly large, massively dense development, DK Broadway LLC has promised a plethora of community benefits: affordable housing, public open space and the payment of a whole raft of monetary fees, including transportation impact fees, recreation and parks fees and even a fee for affordable housing projects elsewhere in the city.

Additional fees will provide millions of dollars for early childhood initiatives, historical preservation, Big Blue Bus and transportation management contributions. The developer has promised to implement a transportation demand management (TDM) plan, numerous “sustainability elements,” 135 commercially-available on-site parking spaces, a community meeting space, bicycle and electric vehicle parking and local hiring during construction.

I view these $24.4 plus million in so-called “community benefits” (as demanded by special interests and City Hall power players) as ransom paid by the developer to assure the project will generate maximum profit. Unfortunately, I see little “community benefit” for you and me except a big, hulking, ugly, traffic-generating building.

If DK Broadway is going to spend this much on “community benefits”, you know those expenditures will be factored into the development’s market rate rent rates. This creates an even bigger gap between those who can afford to pay top dollar to live here and the rest of us. Trying to obtain diversity this way is a monumental failure perpetrated by myopic planners, clueless commissioners and unrealistic policy makers.

Commissioners also loved the development’s location – minutes from the Expo rail terminal at 5th Street and Colorado Avenue. They actually think that this means the project’s tenants will abandon their cars and start using mass transit to go to work, shop and go to school. Unbelievable.

Another issue is the arbitrary upgrading of zoning standards. The 1984 Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) standards remain applicable to Downtown properties until the adoption of the pending Downtown Community Plan, says the staff report to the Planning Commission.

Last October, “Council gave direction that certain priority projects could be processed prior to the adoption of the Downtown Community Plan (DCP). The 500 Broadway project was identified because it had completed float-up reviews and would provide a significant source of housing in the Downtown.”

The project is subject to the 1984 LUCE Downtown Core standards and the 1988 Zoning Ordinance which establishes a maximum building height of 84 feet and six stories and 3.5 floor area ratio (FAR) for the Downtown core.

DK Broadway’s proposal exceeds the number of floors and (FAR) limitations allowed by code, so the applicant wants permission to bypass the 1988 codes, increase the maximum FAR from 3.5 to 4.0 for greater mass and eliminate the limitation on the number of floors because there is at least one floor of residential use in its proposed development.

DK Broadway goes so far as to propose that the 1988 codes be amended to apply to all new construction in the Downtown core area until such time that a new Downtown Community Plan is approved. If adopted, these amendments would set a new standard for much larger and denser new buildings Downtown than would be allowed under the older codes and possibly also the new codes arising from an approved Downtown Community Plan.

The lone dissenting Planning Commission vote against the project came from Mario Fonda-Bonardi who said the proposed development was too big and would generate significant traffic increases.

Richard McKinnon, a failed council candidate now on the Planning Commission, voted for the project after being quoted in the media during his 2014 campaign as saying, “Santa Monica cannot keep building larger, denser buildings and cramming in overdevelopment when water is nonexistent… Santa Monica’s 35-year-long overdevelopment has created water scarcity, endless traffic jams and an unsustainable future. This cannot continue.” McKinnon also claimed that the project’s Expo-adjacent location should encourage people to get out of their cars. Pathetic.

Worse yet, Commissioner Amy Anderson referred to the development as “beautiful” while Commissioner Jennifer Kennedy thought there were a lot of good things about the proposal, including the community benefits and open space for public access.

This development provides no better argument for supporting the Land Use Voter Empowerment (LUVE) initiative when it appears on the November ballot. If voters approve the measure, it would eliminate bureaucratic approval of oversized developments like 500 Broadway and let the people – who’ve already said they want lower size and density – decide by voting “yea” or “nay” via ballot measure.

We also need to end political appointments based on idealism and cronyism. Having smart, common sense people on both the City Council and Planning Commission is imperative if we’re going to have leaders that listen to us as opposed to forcing their own unpopular and incoherent social agenda down our throats.

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com.

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