CITYWIDE — City staff are taking another look at estimates used to calculate the amount of traffic and parking spaces needed for new development in light of research brought forward by a resident showing that companies are squeezing more workers into less square footage than previously assumed.

Numbers produced by CoreNet Global, a leading association for corporate real estate executives, suggest that companies are vastly reducing the amount of office space allotted per worker both to cut costs and to embrace a more flexible office environment with less assigned space to promote collaboration.

CoreNet Global found that modern offices set aside roughly 171 square feet for each worker, a number that many anticipate will fall to 151 square feet within five years if not more.

That’s a far cry from staff estimates used in a contract for the Bergamot Transit Village, a massive mixed-use project that includes a great deal of “creative” office space. According to the development agreement drafted between City Hall and the developer Hines Corporation, those employees will have 286 square-feet per worker.

That didn’t seem quite right to Valerie Griffin, a self-proclaimed techie who has watched her own use of office space diminish vastly over the years as work spaces get smaller and bulky items like filing cabinets become a thing of the past.

The CoreNet Global report as well as other articles by the Los Angeles Times shored up Griffin’s theories on the subject, which the City Council discussed at their Sept. 11 meeting.

The implications on this and other development agreements are daunting.

“Instead of having 1,730 workers in the amount of space they were proposing, it would be 5,000 to 6,000,” she said.

Those potentially uncounted workers could spell trouble if you consider the amount of additional cars on the road taking them to the office — the environmental impact report for the Bergamot Village Project already says some of the traffic impacts are “unavoidable” — and the parking spaces needed once they get there.

Or not, said Richard Kadzis, vice president of strategic communications at CoreNet Global.

While companies in general are trending downward in the amount of space per employee in order to achieve some major cost savings, they’re also creating more flexible, attractive workspaces with unassigned desks and open space.

Gone are the cubicles of yesteryear. In their place are democratized spaces where all workers can get natural light and a chance at the open views, Kadzis said.

The arrangement also encourages employees to work from home when possible, meaning not all of the employees that technically work for these companies will actually be traveling in on a daily basis.

“They’re smaller because employees can work from home, go out with clients, work somewhere else inside the building,” Kadzis said. “Technology allows that to happen in ways it couldn’t happen even five years ago.”

The proximity of mass transit can also be a mitigating factor. The Bergamot project will be adjacent to the Bergamot Station of the Exposition Light Rail Line, something proponents have been pointing to for some time as a way to cut down on car trips going in and out of the proposed development.

In any case, the Hines project is currently on hold, according to the Planning Commission caselist which has no new hearing date since August 2011, and the City Council has directed staff to work with the Planning Commission to review the office space per worker ratios to make sure they’re consistent with modern practices.

That has to happen before City Hall gets too much further down the road with the revision of the zoning code, said Councilmember Kevin McKeown.

“What this indicates is that we no longer live in the world of the 1980s when that 300 square foot number was given,” McKeown said. “We live in a world of Dilbert, where people are put into small cubicles.”

Griffin, who has long been a vocal proponent of increased parking and reasonable development, was thrilled by the move.

“I am so happy to live in a city where this is considered,” Griffin said. “Santa Monica is one of the first cities anywhere … to really study the impact of the modern workplace on modern urban planning. This is an incredibly forward-looking action for the city to take.”

 

ashley@smdp.com

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