Item 3R on the consent calendar for last Tuesday’s City Council meeting was one of those small expenditures (if you can call spending over a half million dollars “small”) that’s easily overlooked.
The item was a contract to spend $546,485 for urban design, planning, traffic/parking strategies and economic analysis for the Bergamot Area Plan. The HUD-funded plan will address the cumulative impacts of foreseeable possible developments in the 140-acre, eastern Mid-City study area and make recommendations to reduce negatives associated with extensive development.
According to the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC), “The study plan includes the 35 acres of the Bergamot Transit Village District and 7-acre Bergamot Transit Village Center within, 19 acres of the Bergamot Station Arts Center across Olympic Boulevard and another 86 acres of the Mixed Use Creative District. Together this encompasses a huge area from Cloverfield Boulevard on the west to Centinela Avenue on the east and Colorado Avenue on the north and Exposition Boulevard on the south.”
Council unanimously approved funding the study without any discussion about putting a number of proposed developments on hold pending its completion.
So far, over a half-dozen new office, commercial and mixed-use developments are being proposed for this Bergamot neighborhood. One corporate headquarters is already under construction. The problem is that piecemeal planning is already threatening to compromise any recommendations derived from the study.
Recognizing that there’s pressure from developers to expedite their projects — coupled with the reality that five out of seven council members have already accepted tens of thousands of campaign dollars from developers — SMCLC, neighborhood groups and a cross section of residents want to freeze all commercial neighborhood development activity pending adoption of a final Bergamot Area Plan.
SMCLC recently wrote a letter to the City Council stating that moving ahead and approving projects on an individual basis, “would constitute poor planning policy and piecemeal planning in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and our local Land Use and Circulation Element known as LUCE.”
SMCLC pointed out that in 2010, City Hall was awarded a HUD Community Challenge Grant aimed at “promoting sustainable and integrated land use, transportation and cultural planning.” The $652,500 grant was awarded to develop an area plan in order “to transform the mostly industrial lands into a transit-oriented, mixed-use neighborhood.” That grant is funding the Bergamot Area Plan.
Developments floated so far are primarily creative office/work/commercial projects with little or no housing. Critics say these kinds of developments will exacerbate the existing imbalance in office and housing space.
For example, Hines, the developer of the Bergamot Transit Village Center, plans a massive, 766,000-square-foot project with less than 30 percent housing. City Hall planners are on record as advocating for between a 40/60 commercial/residential ratio in one sub-area to a 50/50 ratio in another.
The first projects already on the boards with City Hall’s blessings don’t even come close to those ratios.
Even though office/commercial space is more profitable to developers and property owners, “It’s still not acceptable under the HUD grant, or under LUCE,” advises SMCLC.
The proposed Bergamot Transit Village Center for the Papermate site at Olympic Boulevard and 26th Street and two other smaller mixed use/creative office projects — Roberts Business Center and the Village Trailer Park (both on Colorado Avenue) — have already begun the development agreement process.
Senior planner Peter James e-mailed that staff is aggressively “jumping into the next phase … with the expectation to deliver a draft Bergamot Area Plan by late spring.” He also noted that community input is ongoing.
Being that the sheer number and size of the developments will affect the city for decades to come, there’s absolutely no reason to approve or even provide input for any project until the Bergamot Area Plan is finalized — in a year and some months at the most. If we’re going to get this right, things must wait.
Walgreens in limbo
Speaking of projects, Walgreens’ proposed new drug store for the corner of Pico and Lincoln boulevards was recently put on indefinite hold by the Planning Commission pending the appointment of a new commissioner to fill a vacancy (which was just filled).
Even though Walgreens withdrew its intention to sell alcohol and promised reduced hours of operation, there was still a lot not to like about the project. Increased traffic and a parking lot driveway and loading zone in an adjacent alley just feet from nearby homes were two major objections.
Although the property is zoned C4 Highway Commercial, some commissioners advocated for housing on the property to fulfill a LUCE goal of building housing on or near major transit corridors. As if people might want to live at one of the busiest and noisiest intersections in Santa Monica.
Walgreens will most likely be reviewed by the commission again and then referred to City Council for final disposition.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.