Hines is a privately owned, international real estate firm. Currently, the firm controls assets valued at approximately $24.3 billion around the globe.
Hines is seeking a development agreement (DA) to develop the Bergamot Transit Village Center on Olympic Boulevard between 26th and 28th/Stewart streets to replace the 200,000-square-foot Papermate factory with 766,897 square feet of development, cut down from the original 957,521 proposal City Hall rejected. The proposed project is still 50 percent larger than Santa Monica Place, still far too large for the gridlocked area where it is located. It will consist of five buildings, each built by a different developer. Hines is seeking entitlements that can be sold with the land, which they do not intend to develop.
They propose a mixed-use project consisting of 472 rental-housing units, 76 affordable units, up to 374,434 square feet of office space, and a few square feet for a restaurant and neighborhood-serving business. In their environmental impact report (EIR), they estimated the amount of traffic the project will generate, based on 286 square feet per office employee, an obsolete number used in a 2008 study for USC. This formula predicts an estimated 7,585 new car trips per day.
Meanwhile, a survey posted by the Wall Street Journal in 2012 states that, “The average for all companies for square feet per worker in 2017 will be 151 compared to 176 today (2012), and 225 in 2010.” Therefore, new daily car trips generated by this project could be closer to 15,000 per day rather than 7,585.
Keep in mind that its location is in the most severely gridlocked area of Santa Monica. Gridlock on Olympic kept me in my car for two hours on a trip that would have taken one hour on an MTA Wilshire bus. Once you experience this level of gridlock, you understand the cavalier disregard this developer has for residents of the three major neighborhoods that this project will impact the most (Sunset Park, Mid-City, and Pico Neighborhood), the residents of West L.A., and users of the 10 and 405 freeways.
The east-west corridors — Olympic, Pico, and Ocean Park boulevards — are already traffic impacted in the mornings and between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. The only southbound corridor out of this area of Santa Monica — Cloverfield/23rd Street — is gridlocked much of the day — now, without any further development.
The jobs-housing imbalance in our city, which has resulted from more than 9 million square feet of office/commercial development since the l984 Land Use & Circulation Element was adopted, has created tremendous congestion. A key goal of the LUCE is to “reduce future traffic congestion” and “reduce regional commercial uses.”
The DA being requested by Hines violates these basic principles of the LUCE, adding office/commercial space to the existing imbalance and increasing traffic congestion significantly.
The basis of the Bergamot plan was that it would create a new neighborhood where people could live and work in the same area without needing cars, so that the “village” would not produce any net new car trips. The first prediction was that it would produce 700 fewer car trips than before it was built.
However, for that prediction to work, people who work in the Bergamot area need to be able to afford to live there. Surveys have shown that jobs in the area offer wages that support rents between $1,000 and $1,500.
Hines market rent rates will be around $2,400 per month, beyond the reach of most workers. In addition, Hines seeks to fulfill their affordable housing obligations by benefiting households making 180 percent of the area median income (AMI). City staff’s response is to focus on households making 150 percent AMI, renaming this focus “Workforce Housing,” and designating it “affordable” in the “community benefits” column, as if this was a benefit to the city.
This is unacceptable. Benefits to residents earning 150 percent to 180 percent of AMI are not benefits that should qualify for additional height and density bonus in any DA.
The Hines EIR contains a letter from the Los Angeles city traffic manager which is posted at smclc.net/PDF/Hines/Hines_DEIR_LAcouncil.pdf
Basically, it says that out of 49 intersections studied, nine under L.A. or joint L.A. and Santa Monica jurisdiction, currently operating at or near capacity are likely to be significantly impacted by this project. It goes on to say:
“In particular, we are interested in examining the combined cumulative impacts of recently approved projects with unmitigated traffic impacts at city of Los Angeles intersections or intersections that we share jurisdiction with city of Santa Monica. We believe that previously approved projects from Santa Monica may have had unmitigated impacts that were only looked at individually in isolation. We believe that if the individual unmitigated traffic impacts of each previously approved project were examined in a cumulative fashion, the combined cumulative traffic impacts to Los Angeles would be much higher than currently stated.”
Its conclusion: “Therefore, it is the strong recommendation of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation that the project be required to provide additional investigation beyond the impact locations themselves with the expressed intent of identifying a mitigation plan that can reasonably address the projects overall anticipated impacts. In the absence of appropriate redress to the stated probably significant traffic impacts within Los Angles, the project should be directed to remove these impacts through either a scaled reduction or land-use reconfiguration of the project.”
The city’s goal has been watered down from “no net new car trips” to “no net new p.m. peak hour car trips” to “Oh, yes, I believe that’s the citywide end goal in 2030.” It remains a mystery how they’re going to reduce traffic, especially since the Bergamot Transit Village Center plan itself has so many escape valves for the project manager.
Keep in mind that all DAs approved by City Hall are subject to a referendum.
This column was co-authored by Ellen Brennan, 19-year resident and activist, and Zina Josephs, long-time resident of Sunset Park. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.