I’ve often wondered why all the new developments in Santa Monica are so distasteful and disliked by the citizenry. Maybe all these so-called benefits, fees and monetary payments demanded by City Hall squeeze developer profits. They cut corners to reduce cost. Quality and livability deteriorate as profitability is protected.
City Hall sells us out while extorting builders to pay for its pet programs. Project inhabitants and the rest of us in the community pay the price in unimaginative, substandard, cramped and overcrowded, traffic generating new construction. All the so-called community benefits and sustainable practices in the world will never turn cookie-cutter, potential slums into examples of smart urban planning and community pride.
Village Trailer Park, LLC developer Marc Luzzatto is seeking a development agreement (DA) to build a 378,460-square-foot, $155 million complex consisting on 438 residential units (including 125 rent controlled apartments — 44 of which would be earmarked for lower income households) and 313 market rate condominiums at 2930 Colorado Ave.
Luzatto’s renamed “East Village” project will also feature 20,860 square feet of “neighborhood serving” retail, 5,080 square feet of office space and 799 underground parking spaces if the City Council approves.
The DA request before City Council tomorrow night reflects changes recommended by the Planning Commission on June 20 to reduce size and massing and increase green space and public benefits.
Luzzatto is promising a pot load of questionable community benefits such as payment of a number of fees including transportation management and infrastructure fees ($1.85 million), a $350,000 contribution to a trust fund for seniors and disabled, a $100,000 cultural tax, a $180,000 child care fee, $50,000 for a start-up Bergamot Transportation Management Association plus more fees for parks and condo taxes. East Village will also generate up to $1 million annually in sales taxes, licenses and fees.
Additional add-ons include two new streets, public open spaces, shared parking, outdoor dining space, slightly over 500 bicycle parking spots including lockers and showers and a workforce housing preference “for workers within one mile of the project.”
The project must also meet sustainable requirements in the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) such as solar panels, shared parking, “EV ready” vehicle charging stations and LEED silver certification.
There are still two many sardines packed into this 3.85 acre can. Developer renderings show a quartet of four- and five-floor buildings, literally cheek to jowl, with a minimal 30 foot wide separation. Residential housing, both apartments and condos, are primarily singles and one bedroom units with a handful of two and three bedroom units thrown in for good measure.
Architecturally, it looks like every other affordable housing project in town. With so many units packed so close and so high, the noise from stereos, TVs, loud conversation, crying babies and barking dogs will be a major quality of life issue despite all the bike racks, paseos and public green spaces Luzatto has added. Think 1980’s “Oakwood Garden Apartments” in 2015. Blah.
For the surrounding neighborhoods, Village East will produce “significant and unavoidable” traffic impacts at numerous intersections in Santa Monica and West Los Angeles. It’s close to the Bergamot Expo Light Rail stop which supposedly means less cars and traffic despite nearly 800 parking spaces and an estimated 127 to 165 net, new, weekday, morning and evening rush hour car trips it will generate.
Even worse, this is one of six major developments either approved or planned for the immediate Bergamot area which still doesn’t (and probably never will) have an approved area-wide development plan.
I can understand why City Hall wants this project to move forward. Besides the huge amounts of money from taxes and fees, East Village will provide more housing for the young, creative types who will supposedly be employed in the hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space planned within walking distance in the immediate vicinity.
Then, there’s the other issue: the current residents of the Village Trailer Park.
After Luzzatto bought the Village Trailer Park some six years ago, the approximately 90 tenants (now down to 48 residents, many of which are elderly and with health issues and disabilities) fought long and hard to keep their homes and lifestyle.
A series of meetings, correspondence, legal actions and memos between City Hall, Luzzatto and VTP tenants dragged on. City Hall was trying to negotiate a satisfactory relocation deal and buy time for residents to make other living arrangements.
The City Council doesn’t have to change the mobile home zoning and approve the development agreement. However, it can’t force Luzzatto to keep the VTP open, either. With the possible exception of two court-protected residents, the remaining tenantry will inevitably be evicted from the premises.
Planning commissioners made a number of recommendations including a variety of moving out options that could cost Luzzatto up to $2 million in relocation expense.
Cash buyouts, first shot at the affordable units in the East Village (with rental subsidies on interim apartments), relocation of dwelling units to the city-owned Mountain View Trailer Park on Stewart Street or other locales, placement in other low-rent apartments and more are on the table. Too bad, Chair Gerda Newbold and member Jason Parry left early and didn’t vote on these at one of the year’s most important commission meetings.
There are two things the City Council must do tomorrow night: approve settlement offers VTP residents can’t refuse and substantially reduce this development’s negative aspects.
As always, public comment is imperative.
Bill can be reached at email@example.com.