BERGAMOT STATION — U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan joined city officials for a tour of Bergamot Station Thursday morning to get a first-hand look at the future home of the Expo Light Rail station and mixed-use housing development.

Donovan praised Santa Monica’s efforts to create a community that takes advantage of alternative forms of transportation while at the same time maintaining an authentic local feel.

“This model in Santa Monica is what we’re trying to bring to other parts of the country,” Donovan said.

To further the work, HUD awarded City Hall a $652,000 grant in November 2010 to fund part of the Bergamot Area Plan, which will create the framework to make sure the new development fits the community vision of a high-quality, mixed-use transit village surrounding the new Expo Light Rail station.

The grant is one of the first made out of $170 million HUD will give to communities across the nation for planning efforts, the largest pot of money set aside for planning in generations, Donovan said.

Those funds represent a collaboration between HUD, the Department of Transportation and the National Endowment of the Arts that specifically tries to promote sustainable communities by connecting housing to jobs, fostering local innovation and helping to build a clean energy economy.

Perhaps just as important, the award gets City Hall’s foot in the door for another wave of funding for the construction piece of the project.

“We’re giving you and all communities a built-in competitive edge,” Donovan said. “This is smarter government, where a single investment can produce multiple benefits.”

That investment will help create a sustainable community at the transit village that City Hall hopes will turn the former industrial area into a thriving, artistic community connected directly to everything from Downtown Santa Monica to Downtown Los Angeles.

HUD awarded the grant, in part, because of City Hall’s success in putting together the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) of the general plan, which will guide development within city limits for decades to come.

“The LUCE gave us faith that you would act at all,” Donovan said.

The timing of the grant was critical to getting the planning for the project lined up with the coming light rail line, said Francie Stefan, a community and strategic planning manager with City Hall.

While the planning effort would always have been necessary, “this allowed us to do it now,” Stefan said.

The detailed level of analysis on how to put together the project will be critical if City Hall wants to be successful at including light rail and its projected 60,000 daily riders into the fabric of Santa Monica without causing too many wrinkles.

“I want to thank HUD for making this possible,” Stefan said. “It was critical to move forward quickly.”

The planning will focus on creating a development that can serve all of the needs of its residents on foot or on bike. That’s going to mean chopping up the large, industrial sites and creating smaller, pedestrian-friendly blocks to remove the need of getting in a car to complete even small errands, Stefan said.

“We’re looking at ways to take individual parcels and knit them together to make a community,” she said.

The focus on walkability and the “no net new trips” ideal embodied in the LUCE is more than just an eco-friendly feather in City Hall’s cap. It directly impacts the pocketbooks of the future residents of the site.

Even before gas prices hit $4 per gallon, the average American was spending 52 cents of every dollar earned on fuel and housing, Donovan said.

Mayor Richard Bloom, who introduced Donovan, spoke highly of the HUD secretary and the policies behind the grant.

“He believes what we believe with regards to social issues,” Bloom said. “We are simpatico, as the Italians say.”

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