CITY HALL — An attorney retained by a local community group took a scathing view of an environmental impact report for the proposed Bergamot Transit Village, calling its analysis “shoddy.”
The village, which will be on the former Papermate site north of the incoming Exposition Light Rail station, was presented as a 766,094 square foot project with a mix of housing and office space.
In a 26-page breakdown of the report, Beverly Palmer, a Los Angeles attorney hired by the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC), noted that the draft document failed to accurately portray the project’s impacts on the environment, what could be done to lessen those impacts and altogether ignored alternatives to the proposed project, which community groups feel is too large.
The report underestimates the amount of traffic that the project will create by giving it credits for the incoming Exposition Light Rail Line and undefined plans for encouraging employees and residents of the project to take alternative forms of transportation, Palmer wrote.
It also completely ignores other large developments already planned for the area, including the arts center at Bergamot Station and a trio of developments totaling just under 700,000 square feet on nearby Colorado Avenue.
Officials from the Planning Department did not respond to requests for comment by presstime.
One of the most egregious missteps, according to Palmer, is that all of those developments are working their way through City Hall approval before the completion of a master plan for the area, which should be the starting point for an environmental impact document.
“As a legal matter — and as a matter of sound public policy and urban planning — the [draft environmental impact report] puts the cart way before the horse when it makes a finding that the proposal will not have significant impact on land use plans,” Palmer wrote.
Former Planning Director Eileen Fogarty cautioned against such an outcome in a 2010 memo to planning staff and the Planning Commission.
The Bergamot Area Plan, as it’s called, was being developed at the same time that the development agreements for the transit village and other nearby projects were in their early stages.
“Therefore, it is important that the city accelerate portions of the planning so that the planning guides the review of the DAs rather than the DAs directing the area plan,” Fogarty wrote.
The Bergamot Transit Village proposal immediately drew concerns from residents and community groups for its size and potential impacts on the already-congested eastern end of Santa Monica.
Rather than content themselves with verbal comments in open meetings, the SMCLC took steps to raise money to hire both an attorney and a traffic engineer to deliver professional objections to the report.
The coalition wanted to make sure that the information it provided would be done in a way that had to be taken seriously, said Diana Gordon, a co-chair of the SMCLC.
“Ultimately, we all have to be concerned that what you say is correct, and that you’ve analyzed carefully what’s needed in order to get better decisions, not for any ulterior purpose,” Gordon said.
Without that input, the draft report would be a “hollow exercise,” and residents would be used as tools for the developer to justify what they want to build, Gordon said.
The group split the thousands of pages of documents up amongst its membership and went to work, parsing through language and raising questions that were then forwarded onto Palmer, who also read the report.
City officials are actually leaning toward an alternative plan that would include 498 residences instead of the 325 proposed by the developer, Hines Corp., according to previous statements by Planning Director David Martin.
There’s no guarantee that would help matters, Gordon said.
“There may be more housing than commercial, but the fact remains that it’s still too big,” she said.
Furthermore, because the report doesn’t specify what kind of housing will be built or how many people will live there, it’s unclear if any change in the housing mix will actually solve traffic problems, she said.
The Bergamot Transit Village is scheduled for discussion by the Planning Commission in late May.