The residents of Santa Monica achieved a major victory last Tuesday when City Council repealed their previously approved development agreement for a proposed 765,000-square-foot mixed-use project called the Bergamot Transit Village.
The Olympic Boulevard development, in the pipeline for over seven years, has been universally disliked by residents who hated its size and appearance, density, height and inevitable contribution to already congested traffic from the get-go.
Houston, Texas mega-developer Hines had made some changes over time — reducing the original project’s size, mix of housing and office uses — but it wasn’t nearly enough.
When council gave its approval to the project in February, citizens rallied around Armen Melkonians and his Residocracy.org group and were circulating petitions to recall the project just hours after council’s controversial vote. Nineteen days later, petitioners had gathered well over the 6,500 valid voter signatures needed to force council to either rescind its vote on the development agreement of put it on the ballot for voters to decide on upholding or repealing the project.
Tuesday evening, council voted to rescind their support for the project. Voting for repeal were Kevin McKeown, Tony Vazquez and Ted Winterer, who were the minority council members who also voted against approving the development agreement in February. Now, here’s where it gets interesting: Gleam Davis who has been consistently pro-development and voted to approve the project in February, voted Tuesday to rescind the development agreement she previously supported.
Bob Holbrook and Mayor Pam O’Connor, who are also consistent pro-development votes on council, abstained on the Hines development agreement. Terry O’Day, also a pro-development supporter, voted against rescinding the vote, preferring instead to put it on the November ballot.
It should be noted that O’Day, O’Connor, Holbrook and Davis have been recipients of developer campaign money in past elections.
In 2008, developers and real estate interests raised $800,000 to defeat Measure T (also known as RIFT) which would have capped commercial development in Santa Monica for 13 years. Terry O’Day and Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) honcho, Judy Abdo co-chaired the anti-T committee that was the recipient of major developer largess. T was narrowly defeated in that year’s election.
If the Hines agreement were put on the November ballot, it would have been interesting to see how much money — and how many lies — Hines and other developers would have expended on trying to convince voters to oppose rescinding the agreement.
Today, voters, especially with Residocracy.org, are much more aware of development issues than voters in 2008. I doubt that this year even a million dollar plus campaign to save the Hines development would be successful if it were placed on the ballot.
Bob Holbrook was upset at the “nasty” and vitriolic communications he had received from those supporting the Hines repeal. While there’s no excuse for rudeness, I’m finding that councilperson’s complaints about uncivil e-mails is a little boring, especially when they make decisions they know will be clearly unpopular with a stirred-up public.
We, the people, have been discounted over the years when it comes to development, traffic and other issues. It took a public uprising and 13,500 signatures to overrule City Hall politicians who have chosen to pursue their own unpopular agenda.
The people are angry and I’m angry. We’re tired of being ignored, excused and fluffed off. If that’s not acceptable to someone on council — or a council-appointed commission — they can step down or be removed from office.
Speaking of City Hall’s response to the citizens, it’s pretty obvious that developers, their land-use attorneys and especially their lobbyists seem to have a louder voice and greater influence on city policy and decisions than any and all groups of residents combined.
I had written in this space about City Hall’s most high profile lobbyist Kim Karie of the Kim Karie Group (“Skullduggery at City Hall”, May 5, page 4). I mentioned that the influential Karie with her access to developer checkbooks was a regular fixture in City Hall and at various community meetings were developments were presented and discussed.
Wasn’t I surprised when I found out that the Karie Group, whose offices are on Neilson Way in Ocean Park, did not have a Santa Monica business license. I investigated and found out that the Karie firm was last licensed in 2006 but has not registered or paid any business taxes since then.
The good folks in the city’s business licensing department tell me she recently applied to renew her business license and the application (as of a few days ago) was pending. It is likely that Karie will be granted a renewal and probably have to pay back business taxes as well as penalties that could equal an additional 100 percent of business tax owed for the seven years (2007 through 2013).
I and others will be following up to see if Karie uses her political clout or calls in favors to negotiate a special tax break involving reducing the amount of money and penalties she owes to City Hall.
Karie’s clients are a virtual roster of every developer who had, or has, a pending project in Santa Monica as well as a couple local businesses and non-profits such as Bubba-Gump Shrimp Company and Saint John’s Health Center, the latter of which was embroiled in a parking garage controversy a couple of years ago that Karie helped to diffuse for the center’s financial benefit.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.