CITY HALL — Planning Commissioners grappled with the lack of residential space and neighborhood retail available in the Bergamot area as they discussed the Hines project Wednesday night.
The proposed development agreement for the 7-acre-plot of land off of 26th Street and Olympic Boulevard consists of 471 rental units, 15,500 square feet of restaurant space, 14,000 square feet of retail, and 374,000 square feet of office space.
Commissioner Richard McKinnon pointed to several office spaces in the area, like the Water Garden, and questioned planning officials as to why Santa Monica needs more offices before building housing in the area.
“What we can guarantee with office is, since we don’t have enough residential, if you build that, people won’t be living in Santa Monica,” he said. “But at least with the residential they might be, and we might have a chance of tackling the needs of the people who already have a jobs imbalance.”
Planning officials acknowledged that offices create more of a traffic burden than housing but said that anything done to the site would increase traffic in the short term.
Paul Silvern, speaking as a consultant for the planning department, explained that the city is facing a shortage of office spaces despite extremely high demand.
“You have incentivized residential development in the commercial districts by essentially doubling the density,” he said. “You have made it much more profitable, generally speaking, to produce housing in Santa Monica than commercial space.”
Santa Monica, Silvern said, is losing out on ideal businesses that are forced, due to lack of supply, to choose Playa Vista, Culver City, Venice and West L.A.
“The young sort of second or third stage companies that are coming out of incubators can’t afford the price of office space to grow and mature in Santa Monica,” he said. “Even if they can, they can’t find it because it’s not available.”
The Hines plot, he said, with its proximity to the incoming Expo Light Rail station is ideal for minimizing traffic.
“In this particular location, where you’ve got a very large piece of land and you’ve got the flexibility to develop the kind of commercial office space, or creative office space that is missing in this city, the balance tips a little differently,” he said.
Commissioner Amy Anderson spoke highly of the tone created by the mix of office and housing.
“You need it to feel like a mini Downtown Santa Monica and I think we lose that if we make it too residential,” she said.
Chair Jennifer Kennedy responded, saying that the scale of office buildings could take away from the neighborhood feel and that the real need is for small retail like hardware stores and pharmacies.
Commissioner Sue Himmelrich agreed, using New York City’s Greenwich Village as her model.
“It’s an urban environment without being overwhelming and without being L.A. Live,” she said. “I think there’s a way to achieve this and have some density.”
McKinnon seemed to side with Kennedy and Himmelrich, expressing a desire for the small retailers.
“We’re all looking to get people out of their cars, walking and engaging in local neighborhood-serving retail and not necessarily The Gap,” he said. “That’s what creates traffic. It’s not the local coffee shop.”
Commissioner Jim Ries questioned the need for the project’s 27 proposed artist live/work studios given the lack of area retail. He noted that Santa Monica rejects large retailers, but that residents clearly want to use them.
“Now Target and Best Buy and all these other large department stores are right at our border because they want our dollars,” he said. “We shooed them away from us because we didn’t want trips, but now we’re putting our trips on other people. So at some point we need to stand up and accept that we generate trips. It’s not other people, it’s us.”
Commissioners discussed the project last month and will discuss it again next month.