“The development of Bergamot will impose on the surrounding neighborhoods a level of unparalleled traffic congestion. Already, there is complete gridlock at intersections that will be further impacted by this oversized, over-height, and ill-conceived monstrosity of a project. Those in charge of granting planning and development entitlements of public and private property in the city have absolutely no clue as to the permanent damage and impact they are causing locally and regionally by approval after approval of inappropriate development.”
The approval by the City Council of the Bergamot Area Plan certainly fits that description. The 29-page analysis prepared by Armen Melkonians (who wrote the infrastructure portion of the environmental impact report for Los Angeles’ update to their general plan) pointed out that the EIR for the Bergamot area was simply the recycled EIR done for the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE). The projections for anticipated growth for the years 2010 to 2030 for the LUCE were vastly underestimated.
They were based on a combination of two factors: 1) SCAG (Southern California Association of Governments) regional forecast projections; and 2) California State Department of Finance (DOF) forecasts, which are based on historical trends and predicted citywide housing growth at 4,900 dwelling units, and Bergamot housing growth at 1,300 dwelling units.
The problem with using this criteria as a prediction of growth is that it fails to consider that the LUCE — by its own actions — is modifying land use and providing increased development opportunities in a city with a robust development potential. This robust development potential has been witnessed by the large number of permits and proposed development agreements that flooded City Hall after the adoption of LUCE. None of these were accounted for in the LUCE EIR or as impacts in the Bergamot Area Plan.
To date (three years into the 20-year period that the LUCE and Bergamot Plan were intended to cover) just four projects — Roberts Center, Paper Mate site, Paseo Nebraska (temporarily withdrawn) and the Village Trailer Park — will provide a total of 1,369 residential units, more than the LUCE projection for the entire 20 years.
Traffic projections are interesting. At first we were told that, because of the aggressive traffic management program, the Bergamot area would produce 700 fewer p.m. car trips per day when developed.
That prediction has disappeared, and we now anticipate 20,000 new car trips per day for the Bergamot area projects already in construction or in the pipeline.
With Armen’s projection of 5,749 to 6,991, total dwelling units when the area is built out, coupled with total projected employment base of 17,200 people, the traffic impact and parking needs will be totally different from the effect of the 1,300 dwellings projected by LUCE. This traffic will ultimately impact the entire Bergamot area, the city as a whole and the region (freeways, major streets, local and collector streets). The Paper Mate project alone will impact 27 stop lights and some are in West Los Angeles
Off-street parking projections will stun you. At build out, Armen estimates between 27,000 and 31,000 off-street parking spaces will be needed in these 140-plus acres labeled Bergamot. Since off-street parking in Bergamot is either shared or unbundled it’s very important to get the numbers right. Keep in mind that all the off-street parking in Downtown (including the Civic Center, parking structures and the Main Library) equals a total of 7,968 spaces.
The Bergamot Area Plan was touted as a sustainable development. But according to the Housing Commission, 75 percent of workers in Bergamot, (one of the groups for whom this development is intended so they can walk to work) can only afford rents of $1,000-$1,500, while new rents in the area are estimated to be around $2,400.
As Councilmember Kevin McKeown pointed out last week, “Unless we match rents and wages, we will undercut all the sustainable work we’ve done. And the workers will not be able to afford to live in the area.” He suggested amendment after amendment to the plan and was met with resistance
The other council members were not willing to support changes that would insure sustainability based on rent ratio to wages. They gave staff instructions to study the issue and come back with an analysis for discussion. Neither were they willing to mandate the additional EIRs needed to evaluate the additional impacts known today and unknown when the LUCE EIR was created.
Armen indicates that the present EIR, which does not take into consideration presently known impacts to the development area, would not stand in a legal challenge. City Attorney Marsha Moutrie claims it would. So place your bets, folks.
After the vote on the plan was completed, Councilmember Ted Winterer gave direction to city staff to monitor the enrollment of the schools in Santa Monica. The school district claims school enrollment is rising. At the time the LUCE was approved, school enrollment was dropping and the current rise portends a need for new schools. This also needs to be included in a new EIR for the Bergamot plan.
There is considerable consternation in the region about the impact of the traffic. Diana Gordon, co-chair of Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City, held a press conference on the lawn of City Hall in March 2012, attended by leaders of Los Angeles city neighborhoods (Brentwood, Pacific Palisades, West Los Angeles, Mar Vista, and Venice) to express their concerns about the collective impacts of all the projects slated for the Bergamot area.
Forgotten by our planning staff, City Hall staff and council members, they too, along with the majority of residents in Santa Monica, are being ignored. But as Gandhi said, “You lose and you lose and you lose and you lose. And then you win!”
Ellen Brennan, retired stockbroker, and former member and chair of the Pier Restoration Corporation, authored this column. She and other members of Our Town can be reached at email@example.com