On May 4, 1769, our town first received its namesake when the Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola and his exploration party made camp near two springs of sparkling water. The two springs reminded Portola of the tears Saint Monica shed for her erring son Augustine and our town received its name.
One hundred years later, Col. Robert Baker, from Rhode Island, and Sen. John Jones, from Nevada, owned our town and on July 10, 1875 they filed a town site plot with the county recorder. Five days later the first lots were put on the auction block. Tom Fitch, the auctioneer, made a speech: “At one o’clock we will sell at public outcry to the highest bidder the Pacific Ocean, draped with a western sky of scarlet and gold; we will sell a bay filled with white winged ships; we will sell a southern horizon, rimmed with a choice collection of purple mountains carved in castles and turrets and domes; we will sell a frostless, bracing, warm yet unlangured air braided in and out with sunshine and odored with the breath of flowers.”
Within only a few weeks, houses and stores sprung up, a general store was opened, and Santa Monica had its first newspaper.
Tonight, Aug. 13, our town will once again be put on the auction block, courtesy of our majority pro-development City Council. The auction will occur not on the steps of City Hall, but inside Council Chambers. Council Agenda Item 8-A will consider proposed increased height parameters for Downtown and Item 8-B will consider adoption of the Bergamot Area Specific Plan.
There will no doubt be public outcry from residents. Fortunes will be made by developers. Saint Monica will shed a river of tears for her erring sons and daughters — our elected officials who will sell out to the highest bidders. And the far reaching extent of the adverse impacts on our environment and our quality of life will remain unknown.
Unlike the first public auction held 138 years ago, tonight’s highest bidders appear to have been pre-approved and pre-selected. Four development groups stand to gain billions of dollars in entitlement benefits as a direct result of decisions that will be made by our City Council. In the last council election, NMS Properties, Hines Development Company, Century West Partners (Michael Sorochinsky and the Fifield Companies), and Ocean Avenue LLC each contributed $100,000 to the political action committee Santa Monicans United for a Responsible Future (SMURF) in support of council members Gleam Davis and Terry O’Day, two reliably pro-development votes on the dais.
The approval of the Bergamot Plan and increased height parameters in Downtown will ultimately change the fabric of our town and provide billions of dollars of entitlement benefits to these four development groups. It appears as though the actual bidding and the sale of our town has already occurred. Resident concerns and outcries have thus far gone unheard by our elected officials and the words “sold to the highest bidder” are about to be officially shouted at City Hall — with no shame to boot.
Like the first auction announced on that summer day in 1875, the Pacific Ocean will once again be sold. However, unlike that day, our council must first abide by current environmental regulations as they officially sell our town to the highest bidders.
The Bergamot Plan relies on the program environmental impact report (EIR) certified as part of the 2010 General Plan update, the LUCE. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and CEQA guideline section 15168 requires that in adopting the Bergamot Plan the council must first make findings that the plan will have no “new significant environmental effects or a substantial increase in the severity of previously identified significant effects” which were not previously identified in the LUCE EIR. Additionally, if substantial increases to the severity of previously identified significant effects are determined to be present, then CEQA Section 15162 requires that a subsequent EIR be prepared.
In my professional opinion as a civil and environmental engineer, the Bergamot Plan cannot be found to be consistent with the LUCE EIR and a subsequent EIR is required prior to adoption of the plan. The LUCE EIR analyzed a grossly underestimated projection of growth for our city over the next 20 years. In just three years after adoption of the LUCE, these projections have been exceeded by current and pending development agreement applications. The LUCE EIR did not analyze any impacts to our environment beyond the underestimated projections. This new information of “substantial importance” which was not known and could not have been known when the LUCE EIR was certified is now a fact. This new information must be considered “in light of the whole record.” The significant adverse effects to our environment will undoubtedly be more severe than those considered in the LUCE EIR.
In my humble opinion, the adoption of the Bergamot Plan would constitute an abuse of discretion by the council. At the end of the day, if the City Council refuses to listen to the voice of the residents in protecting our environment and quality of life, then the council may be subjected to the voice of the courts. Somehow, we must stop Saint Monica’s tears.
This column was authored by Armen Melkonians, civil and environmental engineer and a grassroots advocate for resident democracy. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.