CITY HALL — City Council couldn’t wait to approve the Hines project at Tuesday night’s meeting.
To avoid delaying the proposal for several more weeks, council opted to approve the Bergamot Transit Village in a 4 to 3 vote with only a few changes.
The project planned for a 7-acre plot of land at 26th Street and Olympic Boulevard will include 427 apartments, 374,434 square feet of office, 15,500 square feet of restaurants, and 13,891 square feet of retail spread across five buildings. It’s been in the works for about seven years. The contract gives Hines another 10 years to provide a certificate of occupancy.
Hines representatives declined to comment for this article.
Before the meeting, dozens of residents opposing the project gathered in front of City Hall with signs and a sound system chanting about traffic. They believe the development proposed is massive and will add to the congestion on city streets. Their voices were faintly audible from the Council Chamber.
Protesters briefly entered the chamber chanting, “Vote no!” Mayor Pam O’Connor asked the audience in the chamber to remain silent.
Last week, before hearing 95 public speakers weigh in on the project for more than three hours, the council opted to delay the vote.
Council members Kevin McKeown, Tony Vazquez, and Ted Winterer opposed the development as proposed and called for more dramatic changes. All demanded more housing.
“This project as passed will be unacceptable to our community,” McKeown said. “It’s too big. It still has too little housing. There’s still too little affordability and too little open space.”
Councilmember Gleam Davis initially made a motion to drop the amount of creative office space by about 42,000 square feet to reach an equal amount of residential and housing square footage. Upon learning that it would take several weeks for city officials to revise the development agreement and fearing that Hines could withdraw, Davis removed her motion.
The prevailing council members expressed fear that the project would remain dormant or that Hines would choose to reoccupy the space without the residential units or package of community benefits.
“I’ve heard some people say, ‘well that would be OK because when the traffic went away, we could let them build the project,’” Davis said. “Well the traffic’s never going away.”
She then asked for several minor amendments that took city officials over an hour to complete. Council came back and approved the project.
O’Connor noted that there is no guarantee that those who choose to live in Santa Monica will work here. Traffic is also created by the residents who leave the city, she said.
Hines will spend $32 million on community benefits over 55 years including $9 million on 93 affordable housing units, 24 of which will be designated extremely-low income. Another $11 million will go to early childhood education programs. More than $3 million will go to bike sharing and traffic reduction programs.
The workforce housing will be available to those making less money than what was originally proposed thanks to the most significant amendment made to the project Tuesday night. Davis pushed for changing the income targets from 180 percent area median income to 150, and 150 percent to 130, to make more units affordable.
Santa Monica’s median household income is $72,271, according to Census data from 2008-12.
Another amendment, suggested by Winterer, requires Hines to address commuter traffic. The previous version set a goal for the developer, asking them to reduce the number of people who drive to the site. Thanks to the amendment, if Hines fails to hit the target it would constitute a default on their agreement with City Hall.
Last month, City Hall announced Agensys, a cancer research lab, missed its traffic marks. The developer is required to submit new traffic management plans. Two others, the Colorado Center and Saint John’s Health Center, missed their targets last year, but because their development agreements do not contain requirements and penalties, there is less City Hall can do.
Winterer criticized the aesthetics of the proposed buildings’ design.
“They hired one firm which has a certain corporate profile and style,” he said. “It still looks like we have a bunch of buildings that if they were cars they’d be designed by GM. We have the General Motors look. There’s not a Mini Cooper or a Lamborghini or even a Yugo in there.”
The project got a recommendation, after a vote of 4 to 3, from the Planning Commission. Several commissioners pushed for a smaller project with more residential units.
Creative office space is in short supply in the city by the sea, according to city officials.
City Manager Rod Gould said that Santa Monica has the lowest vacancy rate of office space in the region.
Riot Games, creators of one of the most popular video games in the world, recently moved just outside of the city limit to West Los Angeles where, as Davis pointed out, they will be governed by L.A.’s transit management controls.
There was no public comment at Tuesday’s meeting but the chamber was packed.
City officials acknowledged that the decision is going to be challenged, likely in multiple forms.
Vazquez said that there had been “rumors of a referendum” and City Attorney Marsha Moutrie said City Hall is “going to get sued.”
Armen Melkonians, who founded Residocracy.org, a website designed to drive referendums, said he “absolutely” plans to push for a referendum to overturn council’s decision.
Melkonians will hold a referendum launch party next Wednesday following the second reading of the ordinance allowing Hines to proceed. He’ll have four weeks to get signatures from 10 percent of Santa Monica’s registered voters. If he’s successful, the matter will go before the public in an election.
Melkonians said he had hoped that Councilmember Bob Holbrook might oppose the project but that ultimately he expected the vote to go the way it did.
“The mood (the day after the vote) is very positive in terms of getting a referendum done,” he said.
Last week, attorneys representing Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City, a community organization fighting rampant development, sent a 50 page document to council challenging numerous aspects of the environmental impact report.
A post on the coalition’s website calls it “a precursor to a lawsuit.”