A major development is in the works for the corner of Fifth Street and Arizona Avenue. (File photo)
A major development is in the works for the corner of Fifth Street and Arizona Avenue. (File photo)

Another one of those massively big developments is before City Council (Item 8-B) for review Tuesday night.

This one is the development proposed for Fourth and Fifth streets along Arizona Avenue. The site is currently a Bank of America branch, other small commercial buildings and surface parking lots — one of which houses the seasonal ICE at Santa Monica rink.

City Hall purchased the land from 2007 to 2010. Then, city officials were criticized because it had no declared use for the properties and, because of the terms of the sale, the acquisitions would ultimately cost taxpayers well over $100 million.

Community input was solicited and a blue ribbon selection panel consisting of eight people representing various city departments and two outside financial advisors were assembled to evaluate development proposals for the site.

Potential developers were asked to respond to specific objectives such as including a gathering space for public assemblies, exceptional architecture, sustainable design, rooftop access to views, a minimum of 339 public parking spaces and incorporation of concepts identified in the Downtown Specific Plan.

Two applicants made it to the final step: the Metropolitan Pacific Capital (MPC), Clarett West, and DLJ West Capital team and a team consisting of Related California, Community Corporation of Santa Monica (CCSM) RTKL, Koning Eizenberg Architecture and Rios Clementi Hale Studios.

World renowned architect Rem Koolhaas designed MPC’s proposed project. MPC Principal John Warfel is a Downtown Santa Monica insider and prolific local developer.

Mega-developer Related California’s portfolio includes the maligned Village at the Civic Center nearing completion. Partner CCSM is the city-affiliated builder/operator of low-income housing.

Tuesday night, council will consider authorizing staff and the city manager “to enter into exclusive negotiations with the Metro Pacific team and to initiate community outreach, in anticipation of negotiating entitlements and ground-lease terms.”

According to a report to City Council, the MPC team “continued to best address the RFP evaluation criteria, development objectives, and council’s identified priorities.”

Whoa! Hold your horses.

Both the MPC and Related proposals call for tall and enormously massive developments and overpowering structures ranging from 448,182 to over 484,000 square feet in size.

Frontrunner MPC’s proposal is comprised of 12 floors of angular, offset floor plates containing a major (ground level) public plaza and smaller public spaces, a cultural space, retail spaces and a “marketplace concept.” Upper levels will host a hotel, offices and residential space with market-rate and affordable housing.

MPC plans 225 hotel rooms, 96 apartments (48 affordable), 52,000 square feet of retail/cultural space and underground parking for 1,220 vehicles. MPC’s structure soars 148 feet at its highest point.

The overly-enthusiastic staff report reveals that this proposal “responds to council’s adopted development objectives by providing a diverse mix of uses for both the ground floor and upper levels.”

According to the staff report, “MPC’s tiered design creates another large, public open space on the second level, as well as additional programmable open spaces on the upper rooftop levels.”

Unfortunately, Koolhaas’s charmless design looks like the evil emperor’s fortress from a bad science fiction movie.

Related’s proposal contains over 146,000 square feet of office space, 260 apartments (52 affordable), 69,000 square feet of retail/cultural space and a total of 1,213 parking spaces.

Their proposal shows a tall, step-backed, 194 foot (18 floors) stack of boxes.

Both developers claim that public benefits, affordable apartments, open space and other amenities would be reduced or completely lost if an 84 foot maximum height were imposed. Related promised a substantial reduction of benefits even if allowed to build to 180 feet or 110 feet.

Some people need to come to their senses.

Most residents want much less intrusive development. A maximum 84 foot height for new Downtown construction is one parameter that’s met public favor. A few extra feet taller may win folks over if the design is killer.

Buildings much taller than 84 feet fly in the face of public acceptance (especially since City Hall is the property owner and co-developer) and sets a bad precedent for oversized future construction, citywide.

Despite a lengthy and ongoing so-called public process, why are these and other development proposals coming out so badly? Is the public input lacking vision or unrealistic? Is planning staff and their overpriced consultants creating and mismanaging crappy development policies? And, why is the Planning Commission approving everything big, bad and ugly that comes before it?

There’s something wrong when the planning function encourages oversized, cookie-cutter developments, stifles creativity and fosters a distorted and warped vision of what Santa Monica should be.

One doesn’t have to look any further than the Village in the Civic Center to see how “their” vision has gone completely askew. It’s another City Hall co-development that’s way too dense, too massive and too tall at 10 floors; or, the clueless Planning Commission’s thumbs-up last week of the massive, traffic generating Bergamot Transit Village Center — 767,000 square feet of unadulterated dross.

Both proposals for the Fourth, Fifth and Arizona site are dramatically out of scale with their Downtown surroundings. They exceed the height, massing and density parameters that most community members asked for and expect in a revised Downtown Specific Plan.

It would be a big mistake to allow these projects to go forward — unless the public really is to be damned. Unfortunately, those in charge don’t care.

One of these deeply flawed proposals will get the go-ahead and we’ll all get screwed again.



Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com


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