DOWNTOWN — Residents concerned about development and its impact on traffic have filed a lawsuit against City Hall to block the building of over 760,000 square feet of new office space, housing and retail on the east end of Santa Monica.
The lawsuit, filed Monday by the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City, claims city officials, including members of the City Council, shirked their responsibility to protect the public and the environment by approving the Bergamot Transit Village by Texas-based developer Hines because the project does not provide enough housing.
Residents also say studies of the project’s environmental impact were insufficient and did not provide the council with valid alternatives, such as a development that included a better balance of housing and commercial as well as more open space between buildings.
When some council members tried to push for that option, they were advised that studying it would further delay the development process. The coalition is arguing that if more alternatives were studied, particularly those that would impact traffic less since that was the major concern of residents, the council could have taken up that option without delay and therefore would not have had to rush approval.
In the end, the project, which includes roughly 370,000 square feet of creative office space, 427 apartments, 15,500 square feet of restaurants and 13,800 square feet of retail spread across 7 acres at the corner of 26th Street and Olympic Boulevard, does not comply with established plans for the future of the east side and would create far too much traffic — 7,000 daily car trips, according to the lawsuit.
“Residents were forced to sue because the city didn’t do its job,” said Diana Gordon, co-chair of the coalition. “The city got steamrolled by Hines from the beginning, and ignored the public outcry from a united coalition of residents and community groups that the project … was too massive and would generate unbearable traffic in an already gridlocked area.”
Gordon said City Hall should have studied more alternatives that would have fewer environmental impacts. It wasn’t just residents who asked for that. The city of Los Angeles and California Department of Transportation also expressed concerns about the traffic impacts and asked city officials and Hines to study a smaller project, as well as mitigation measures.
By failing to study reasonable alternatives and not offer mitigation measures, City Hall violated the California Environmental Quality Control Act, the lawsuit states. City officials also violated portions of the Bergamot Area Plan and the Land Use and Circulation Element, a planning document that is intended to dictate how land is used throughout the city for decades.
Officials with Hines could not be reached for comment.
City Attorney Marsha Moutrie said late Monday that she had not seen the complaint, but that the lawsuit was expected.
The Bergamot Transit Village has been contentious from the start, with some residents saying it is an example of how special interests can influence local politics by funneling large amounts of campaign cash to council candidates in exchange for project approvals.
Santa Monicans are currently struggling with increased development, citing concerns about traffic congestion and the loss of ocean breezes and views of the Pacific. They are trying to find a balance that preserves the low-rise character but also makes room for future need, whether that be housing or commercial space for the next generation of families and workers. There are more than 30 projects in the pipeline that could add nearly 3 million square feet of new residential, office and retail space.
The area around the proposed Hines development is one of the most traffic-heavy in the city, with drivers spending up to an hour stuck in traffic as they make their way to Interstate 405 after work.
The Hines project is being challenged by residents who are prepared to file for a referendum on the Hines development agreement with the council. Signatures from registered voters are expected to be submitted to the city clerk Tuesday in support of a referendum. If enough are deemed valid, the development will be brought before the voters, who will have the option of supporting it or sending it back to the drawing board.
The coalition’s lawsuit calls on the court to block Hines from developing the land and to throw out the development agreement approved by council.