Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

4 Councilmembers NOT to Vote for Next Election


February 3, 2014

On Tuesday, as predicted, the Santa Monica City Council voted, 4-3, to approve a Developer's Agreement allowing the Hines development company to build a 767,000 square foot mixed commercial/residential project. The "Bergamot Transit Village" project requires Council approval because it outstrips current zoning limits for the site, the one-time Papermate factory at 26th and Olympic. The Council vote was delayed a week past its original date so the Council members could make a show of listening to widespread resident opposition to the project, which is estimated to bring another 7,000 car trips a day to an already congested area. This was clearly only a show of listening, however. It was evident the vote had already been decided.

Voting to allow the project were Mayor Pam O'Connor, who admits to accepting legal donations from Hines employees to retire her last campaign debt. Also voting to allow the project were relative newcomers Gleam Davis and Terry O'Day. Rounding out the list of aye votes was old-timer Bob Holbrook.

We recommend the following votes from Santa Monica residents, in turn, for these politicians the next time each runs on the ballot:

Pam O'Connor NO

Gleam Davis NO

Terry O'Day NO

Bob Holbrook NO

We would like to commend the three City Councilmembers who voted against the over-scaled Bergamot project: Kevin McKeown, Ted Winterer, and Tony Vasquez.

In a statement to this paper, Gleam Davis defended her vote as "a superior alternative to the only other option on the table - allowing Hines to reoccupy the exiting building and use 300,000 square feet of commercial space without any significant public benefits." The benefits Davis cited are illusory at best, however. She claims the developer will provide "seed money for a traffic management association that will attempt to reduce traffic from the entire area." We don't know what a traffic management association is, however. A carpool listing? The key term in the description appears to be "attempt." As city staff has noted at other meetings, the grid of Santa Monica is at capacity. There is no ability to create new streets or add car lanes.

Another "benefit" Davis cited is 400 residential units "that will allow workers to live near their jobs." While residential units generate fewer car trips per day than commercial uses, nobody can dictate where workers will live. It is highly unlikely the people who work at the future Bergamot Village will also live there. Even if they do, the statistical probability is low that they will keep their job, or that the company they work for will still exist in a few years. This is not a viable strategy to reduce car trips.

With a straight face, Ms. Davis claims there will be "significant affordable housing." She must be aware the city has not enforced the affordable housing requirements of its previous Developer Agreements. (A Developer Agreement is an agreement between the city and a developer, like Hines, that allows them to build beyond the limits of the Land Use and Circulation Elements zoning laws.) Davis also boasts of a new 20,000 square foot green park Hines will build. That's less than 3 percent of the project to be devoted to open space.

Ms. Davis may claim what she likes, but she and her fellow three Councilmembers approved this project for one reason only. To grow the city's tax base. These politicians hope that by allowing as many developments as big as possible, they will be able to continue paying the huge staff employed by the city, including the growing burden of the pensions of said staff. This financial burden is growing faster than the city's revenue. For a city that prides itself on striving for "sustainability" to pay bills by building and building is a remarkably unsustainable financial strategy.

But our current Council appears unwilling to cut back on current staff. Should Davis, Holbrook, O'Day, and O'Connor continue in office, be prepared to see the approval of every project awaiting a Developer Agreement allowing it to build beyond current zoning limits. This would include the proposed 20-plus-story hotel to replace the Fairmont at Ocean Avenue and California. It would include the similarly-sized Frank Gehry tower down the street, as well as six other "opportunity sites" in downtown Santa Monica.

Needless to say, the city will have to hire more staff and expend more resources to support the additional burden on our police, fire, school, water, and sanitation infrastructure. Approving Developer Agreements is a band-aid that won't last long.


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