The decision tonight by the City Council to either dismiss or approve Hines’ proposal to redevelop the old Paper Mate factory at the east end of town means a great deal to not only those who have invested millions, but to residents as well since they are the ones who will have to live with it long after the last nail has been driven.
It means more than office chairs, parking garages, cafes and apartments. This decision is about the future of Santa Monica, setting the tone for how we want to see the city by the sea transformed for future generations and how our offspring will get from point A to point B. News flash: it most likely won’t be by car. It can’t be. Traffic is already at capacity. It’s time to find a new paradigm.
With that in mind, the Santa Monica Daily Press is in favor of the Bergamot Transit Village proposal, but with modifications we feel will make this a project most residents can embrace and enjoy.
Before you crumple this newspaper or throw your laptop across the room, please hear us out. We know there is a lot of anger and disappointment circulating within the community. Development in Santa Monica has, unfortunately, become a divisive issue instead of one that unites around good fortune. When a community is desired by businesses, that typically is a good thing. But in Santa Monica, a town that is struggling to cope with the increase in interest, it is a source of much heated debate and harsh feelings.
That is unfortunate because we feel the Hines development can be good for Santa Monica, and here’s why.
Growth is inevitable. Santa Monica and the rest of the region will continue to attract more people. Whether it’s the 22-year-old graduate from MIT looking to strike it big with her next smartphone application, the New Jersey native stepping off the bus with dreams of Hollywood stardom or the young couple about to start a family, population growth cannot be stopped. Therefore, we must find ways to accept it and manage it as best we can. Without building more housing or more office space, Santa Monica will be unprepared to deal with the increase in demand. Rents will skyrocket, young families will be pushed out and this city will be further strangled by gridlock and falter from a lack of diversity.
The Hines project, with its combination of office space, retail and housing, helps create the community of the future, one in which people can live, work and shop all within their own neighborhood, and without getting into their cars. It’s what innovative, visionary urban planners are calling smart growth, and we agree. We can no longer afford to be car-centric. Change must come and it will be painful for some, but you cannot have progress without some discomfort.
Hines is offering to provide affordable and market rate housing that is sorely needed, plus the creative office space to keep us competitive and attracting the high-wage jobs that make our local economy strong. There is a dedication to preservation, child care and green space. The project, if approved, would be built adjacent to public transit in the form of the Exposition Light Rail line. This is what is envisioned in the Land Use & Circulation Element, a planning document that was debated for years by the community, one that protects traditional residential neighborhoods but allows for growth along transit corridors to meet future demand.
That said, the Daily Press would like to see some tweaks. For one, we want more green space. Forget new streets and walkways. We want grass for kids to play and families to picnic on, we want trees to shade them. In exchange, trim the very-affordable apartments and instead allow Hines to increase its market rate and moderately-priced offerings, which will actually cater to the class of employees who will be working in these new offices. By doing that, the developer can cut down on some of the office space, increase the retail portion slightly and come out ahead.
What the community cannot afford is to reject this plan in hopes of getting something better. There can be some changes, but dramatic reductions in square footage or changes in use could push Hines over the edge. The alternative would be no buffet of community benefits, but instead a rehabbed Paper Mate facility that becomes the traffic-generating office space opponents abhor without the aggressive traffic-demand-management programs. Same traffic or even more, but without the benefits, including hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue to maintain libraries, keep streets clean, pay employee pensions and fund schools.
Now that most likely won’t happen. In any negotiation, people will reach for the moon in hopes of getting more than the bare minimum. The City Council should play hardball and demand a better design with more open space and more housing for all income levels, including deed-restricted condos that could open the door for home ownership.
It is true that the outcomes are not certain. There are no guarantees that future Bergamot Transit Village employees will actually live within the development or even a few blocks away given the high rents Santa Monica is known for; that the owners will be able to meet the aggressive car-trip-reduction goals from incentivizing bike riding, public transit use or carpooling; or that light rail will be a draw for those currently commuting to Santa Monica.
But in life there are very few guarantees. If we fail to push forward with this new paradigm, the only certainty is stagnation and the chance that we will be unprepared for the inevitable growth that will come. To increase the chances for success, the City Council must institute stiffer penalties for failing to make sure future employees ditch their cars and embrace alternative forms of transportation. And then actually enforce those penalties, which should not just be slaps on the wrist, but painful financial blows since, in business, the best way to ensure compliance is to hit the pocketbook.
We know that there is a feeling amongst some in the community that City Hall cannot be trusted to handle the task of oversight. But in Santa Monica, the residents and the press are always watching and have shown the tenacity and the strength to hold our elected officials accountable — even if the voters don’t. If City Hall falls short, rest assured the fourth estate and the neighborhood groups will be there to smack them.
The Bergamot Transit Village, with the modifications we propose, will be a benefit to the community in the long run and will serve as a model for future development in Santa Monica. Let’s continue the negotiations so we can create a beautiful project that also meets the needs of future generations.