On July 23, the City Council will be asked to adopt the Bergamot Area Plan and to find that it’s consistent with the LUCE environmental impact report.
However, city planners’ words and actions don’t match, conclusions don’t match reality and some of the original 20-year goals of the LUCE (the Land Use and Circulation Element of the city’s General Plan) have already been exceeded.
The Bergamot Area Plan will damage residential neighborhoods the LUCE purports to save. It will create increased traffic congestion, making that part of town (the 140-acre Bergamot area is bounded by Cloverfield, Colorado, Centinela, and Exposition boulevards) a nightmare. Folks, this is a recipe for disaster.
The staff report for the Bergamot Area Plan is full of myths. Let’s look at some.
Community involvement: The staff report claims that feedback has been generated from neighborhood groups and other entities, and further that “extensive community involvement” has been supported by a 2010 Housing and Urban Development grant. Peter James, a senior planner, and three other staff members came to a recent community meeting, listened to residents for two hours and never took a single note. Staff also attended one board meeting of the Pico Neighborhood Association. Regardless of claims, this is minimal, not extensive, involvement and yet the plan will dramatically impact the neighborhoods involved.
Conserving neighborhoods: The planning staff is fond of quoting parts of the LUCE. But a not-so-often quoted part of the LUCE says that it “translates the community’s desire to preserve the city’s unique character into programs that carefully limit and control growth … [and] conserves the city’s neighborhoods and historic resources.” But what have they done? Instead of preserving the historic Village Trailer Park, a unique neighborhood in the Bergamot area, they’re allowing it to be completely destroyed.
Greater density will improve the quality of life: Planners support the theory that denser development will reduce car trips, reduce emissions, and improve our health by forcing us to walk, cycle, and use public transit instead of driving. We’ve been seeing denser development in Downtown, where gridlock has become standard, with cars stuck in stand-still traffic wasting gas and polluting the air in greater quantity than normal drive-through traffic.
During the expansion of the Special Office District (the Water Garden, the Yahoo Center, the Arboretum, MTV, and the Lantana Campus), north-south cut-through commuter traffic in Sunset Park increased dramatically.
Due to the location of Santa Monica Airport on the east and the Penmar Golf Course on the west, the only “through street” south of the Bergamot area is the Cloverfield/23rd corridor, through the center of the Sunset Park neighborhood (which stretches from Lincoln Boulevard to Centinela Avenue).
This same corridor also serves Santa Monica Business Park, Santa Monica College, the Cloverfield entrance/exit on Interstate 10, and the hospital district. It becomes a virtual parking lot at various hours of the day, complicating the lives of residents. How will creating even greater density in the Bergamot area make things better?
No net new trips: Systems analyst Valerie Griffin has suggested that planners and developers are greatly overestimating the square footage needed per employee in office projects. As a result, the number of new jobs in the Bergamot Area will likely increase significantly as office projects are completed, bringing many more commuters than estimated in the LUCE EIR.
Traffic consultant Jeff Tumlin claims that the Bergamot Area Plan would result in 700 fewer p.m. peak-hour daily car trips. Yet, trip generation estimates in EIRs for the current development agreements, which cover about 15 percent of the Bergamot area, add up to about 2 million square feet of new development and more than 20,000 new daily car trips.
Mr. James responded as follows: “I’m not familiar with the EIRs of those projects but I think, on a point of clarity, the ‘no net new trips’ is an end state goal set for the year 2030.”
In other words, the Bergamot Area Plan is going to generate a lot of traffic, and the quality of life for Pico, Mid-City, and Sunset Park neighborhood residents will be seriously impacted.
Reducing density in the Bergamot Area: Mr. James has also stated that the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) maximum has been reduced from 3.5 to 2.5 in the plan. When asked how buildings up to 86 feet in height in the proposed Bergamot Transit Village Center fit within 2.5, Mr. James replied that the project is at 2.47 FAR. That’s because staff is allowing developers to include “new streets” in their floor area calculations.
Replacing the 200,000-square-foot Papermate plant with the 766,000-square-foot Bergamot Transit Village Center; and adding the 192,000-square-foot Colorado Creative Studios; the 304,000-square-foot Roberts Center; the 341,000-square-foot Village Trailer Park development; and the 356,000-square-foot Paseo Nebraska doesn’t sound like reducing density — it sounds like lots of massive buildings.
The Bergamot Area Plan’s consistency with the LUCE EIR: The projected growth predicted by the LUCE for 2030 was underestimated because it relied on forecasts by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) and the California Department of Finance. Neither of those apparently took into account the changes in land use in the 2010 update of the city’s LUCE.
For example, the LUCE estimated 1,300 new residential units being built in the Bergamot area by 2030. Yet three years into the 20-year plan, there are already nearly 1,500 units proposed in four development agreements. This Bergamot Area Plan should not go forward without a separate EIR.
It’s obvious, the increase in density and traffic, the draw on city services, the certain gridlock in the area, and the impact on air quality make this a roadmap for disaster for the quality of life of Pico, Mid-City and Sunset Park neighborhood residents.
This column was co-authored by Zina Josephs, a retired school teacher, a current member of the SMMUSD District Advisory Committee on the Visual and Performing Arts, a former Santa Monica Arts Commissioner and Sunset Park resident; and Ellen Brennan, a retired stockbroker, former board member and chair of the Pier Restoration Corporation, and renter in South Beach. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.