I was going to dedicate the largest part of this week’s column to some not so widely known aspects of the Hines project controversy that would likely send many residents running, or weeping, for their pens to sign the referendum petition. (Absolute deadline: March 13 at 5:30 p.m.) But decided not to.
Things like, did you know the developers are permitted to build just the one six- or seven-story office building (actually two, large connected ones) and stop right there, no penalty? Forget all those lovely, idyllic renderings of families frolicking in verdant new parks. No housing, affordable or otherwise, and no open space to speak of. Just thousands of office workers, driving their cars to work. Unless you really believe they’ll all take the light rail, in which case I have a bridge I’d like to sell you. Many think that’s exactly what will happen, one and done by Hines, and then they will subdivide and sell the rest of the 7 acres to other developers, and… then what?
Speaking of the light rail, you do know it is, ridiculously, without dedicated parking, at least at the Bergamot Station? So how are you going to get there from where you live in Santa Monica? You couldn’t even practically be dropped off/picked up if traffic is so dramatically increased at that already jammed intersection, by an additional 7,000 car trips per day.
That number seems unthinkable, but it’s from the environmental impact report. And since Hines, by most accounts, lowballed the number of estimated office workers (Wall Street Journal study, 2012), we could more realistically be looking at 14,000 extra car trips daily. Seriously impacting 26 intersections, not to mention our local parking lot called the 10 Freeway.
If the housing is built, 498 units, do you think every one of them will be occupied by those office workers? Even if they were, at an average of 1.8 persons per unit, that’s more than 900 new residents, but the office space will bring in nearly 4,000 new people per day. You do the math.
Did you know Santa Monica is already one of the most densely populated cities in California? A study of coastal towns by the city of Santa Barbara in 2009 ranked us in a virtual tie with Berkeley and Redondo Beach, half again more dense than Los Angeles. (Try to remember: we’re not Los Angeles.)
And what’s up with the bombshell at the last council meeting that the Bergamot Station Arts Center across the street will now include a hotel and another 40,000 square feet of office space?
Recently Councilmembers Gleam Davis and Terry O’Day asserted that if the current bloated plan is rejected, Hines could just turn the existing building into offices anyway, even adding space, with no community benefits whatsoever, so we’d better take what they’re offering. That, to my knowledge, is just not so, and a scare tactic. If they add even 5,000 square feet, which I’m told would be almost inevitable, it has to go though city approval, and pedestrian walk-throughs and other accommodations would have to be included. That’s no reason to support what stands before us now, because it’s better than doing nothing. Doing nothing, right now, is our wisest course. There are many options other than what’s being pushed on us.
So why are four of seven council members approving all these maxed out development plans? I’ve been trying to figure that out for some time. I eliminated envelopes full of cash being passed around. But payback doesn’t have to be so direct.
I went to the Santa Monica Democratic Club meeting last week, because I’d never been to any party’s official anything ever, and because they intriguingly billed it as “A Peek Behind the Curtain: the inner workings of the political process. Learn what’s happening ‘behind closed doors.’ How to fight City Hall? Who decides things?” At last!
Alack. Not the full Monty, but I did learn a couple things I didn’t know but everyone else seems to, like the names of two of the intertwined local PR (The Karie Group) and law (Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal) firms that represent developers and have great influence on everything that is decided here politically. (I had heard both those names come up before in other discussions.)
Who named names? None other than Councilman Kevin McKeown. Not in any condemning way, just in line with the evening’s theme of who’s influencing the process, behind the wizard’s curtain.
So McKeown’s stock went up in my book. Even something so innocuous as mentioning in public what (almost) everyone already knows can have consequences in the back rooms of politics. We have an election coming up in November. Let’s elect or re-elect candidates who will end government by stealth and seat a City Council that listens to its constituents and makes decisions based on our best interests, and in the open. The impossible dream? It’s California, we make dreams happen.
Speaking of which, I was going to tell you why I changed my mind about giving you those lesser-known reasons to sign the petition to halt the Hines project. I wanted to instead share an image I had that both made me smile, and feel fear for our future.
I was parked at the Palisades Saturday morning after chatting with some referendum organizers, about to leave, when a car pulled in next to me and out poured five young women, mid- to late-teens, who literally bounced and grinned uncontrollably and waved their arms in childlike delight at being at the ocean. They took selfies with the Pacific behind them, the palm trees above them, and all quickly ran to the edge for a better look. Their joy was palpable.
The ocean will still be there if we line Ocean Avenue with skyscrapers, if it takes people an hour to drive across our small town, if pulling right into a parking space facing the ocean is a thing of the past. But watching those young ladies so appreciating that idyllic setting that for so many represents Santa Monica, captured for me in a moment what we’re fighting for, and must not lose.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 28 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org