HIP? The Bergamot Transit Village Center includes retail and office space as well as residences. (Rendering courtesy City of Santa Monica)

HIP? The Bergamot Transit Village Center includes retail and office space as well as residences. (Rendering courtesy City of Santa Monica)

It is axiomatic that every vehicle you own or use is going to occupy some space in every moment of its existence, whether moving or at rest. The one law of physics that explains the most about its movement for me is the law that says, “No two bodies can occupy the same space at the same time.”

It involves space, time, movement and speed. Space has to be open before another body can move into it. So, for your vehicle to move forward, the vehicle in front of you also has to move forward.

Because chaos with moving vehicles is deadly, we’ve created lanes (tracks) in which vehicles are expected to move. When you’re in a moving vehicle, that vehicle’s speed is controlled by the movement of other vehicles in front of it in the same lane.

The more vehicles moving on a particular track or lane, the slower will be the speed of those vehicles, because it takes longer for the space in front of your vehicle to open up. The slowest vehicle in that lane controls the speed of all vehicles behind it. How many times have you sat at a traffic light, seen the light change, and noticed how long it took for each car in front of you to begin to accelerate in turn?

In planning new development, it’s important to understand the purpose of the development, its patterns of usage, the present traffic pattern in the area and how the future patterns of traffic will impact present patterns. Remember that no two bodies can occupy the same space at the same time and that law doesn’t change because it would be more profitable for the developer.  The more cars the developer brings to the area, the slower the traffic will be, until it finally comes to a stand still. So the game has become seriously underestimating the impact to create the perception that it won’t be “so bad.” But underestimating the impact does nothing to change the real impact. Instead, it artificially limits the amount of parking called for and minimizes the appearance of need for mitigation. This translates into lower costs and higher profits for the developer, while residents get left with worse gridlock.

The analysis done by Valerie Griffin, engineer, data analyst and software designer, comparing Hines’ EIR for the Bergamot Transit Village Center (the current Paper Mate site) to the current real estate model for office space development indicates that Hines’ EIR is seriously flawed. The Hines’ EIR employs out-of-date numbers for calculating space for commercial offices, allowing the EIR to seriously underestimate the number of employees the village will employ.

The Hines EIR states: “Based on an employment factor of one job per 447 square feet of restaurant/retail/service uses and one job per 286 square feet of office use, Alternative 3 (requiring a development agreement) would generate approximately 66 retail/service employees and 1,313 creative office employees for a total of 1,379 employees. …  Alternative 3 would also result in a total of approximately 1,429 new residents.”

The project includes only 1,800 parking spaces for employees, residents, and customers.

The 286-square-feet per office employee is a number created in 2008 in a study prepared for the Los Angeles Unified School District. It is now considered obsolete. Since that time offices have become smaller. Office workers no longer need files or large computer workstations or libraries. Documents are now scanned and stored on the web and the recession has stimulated companies to want to reduce their real estate footprint. Currently, office development companies use 75 to 100 square feet per employee as their baseline.

Relying on on-site traffic counts in an area built before the new office size baseline became current, the EIR predicts the estimated daily car trips at 6,926.

Using the current numbers of 75 to 100 square feet per office employee, the number of creative office employees becomes 3,744 to 4,992. With restaurant/service workers included, the number of employees is 3,810 to 5,058. Using the simplistic estimate of two trips per day (one coming and one going) and the higher number of workers, the number of car trips per day becomes 12,974.

“The analysis contained in the Hines EIR falls apart completely when the office density used in property being built today is assumed,” Ms. Griffin said.

The City Council instructed using current rather than obsolete numbers in figuring the impact of commercial office space to be built in Santa Monica. The EIR states that Hines is intending to participate in a Traffic Demand Management program. Such a program includes aggressive fines.

Since most developers seek to get their money out of a project as soon as possible, will an aggressive Traffic Demand Management responsibility be passed to a new owner or general partner so that protection for the community is in place for the life of the buildings? How, and by whom will it be monitored and enforced? TDM programs must be protected for the life of the buildings, through all changes of ownership. How will that be assured?

Seriously underestimating the traffic within an EIR will have no effect on the final number of cars that are eventually generated by the development. Instead, it falsely limits the number of parking spaces called for and the traffic mitigation measures to be put in place, allowing for traffic that is unmitigatable and will affect the entire region. The present EIR estimates that the Hines project will create unmitigatable impacts on 27 stoplights. What will the impact be with an accurate EIR using current numbers?

The Planning Commission is doing an exemplary job of examining all aspects of the Hines proposal. It is hoped that they will reexamine the EIR in light of Ms. Griffin’s analysis. To mitigate the real impact, less commercial space may be indicated.

 

Ellen Brennan, a retired stockbroker and former chair of the Pier Restoration Corp., authored this column. She and the other authors of Our Town can be reached at ourtownsantamonica@gmail.com.

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