In December, the Santa Monica City Council complained that City staff had not given it sufficient information to enable it to choose one of three design/develop teams to create “The Village,” a mixed use project, and tabled the decision.
Last Tuesday, with the information it wanted in hand, the Council voted unanimously to accept the staff’s recommendation and sign with the Related Companies of California.
According to the City staff report, Related was “the only team to agree to acquire the entire site under a long-term ground lease.” The other two finalists, Castle & Cook and Bridge/BRE, “required the sites for the market residences to be sold to them.”
Related also “offered the largest compensation for the Village site under the base and alternative scenarios,” which is estimated “at $14.4 million under the base concept and $21.8 million under the alternative concept.”
Another plus in the eyes of City staff was that Related was able to achieve the desired 325-units specified in the Civic Center Specific Plan (CCSP) in its alternative plan, unlike the other finalists.
Residents who spoke on the question focused on the height limits that were set by the Council when it adopted the CCSP at 56 feet.
Council member Herb Katz pointed out during the hearing that the Related Companies’ design concepts showed only 298 units could be built within the 56-foot height limit but all 325 units could be accommodated in a 65-foot height limit.
Resident Jason Perry called for the City to build the 325 units and “give preference to Santa Monica residents” to live in the units.
Ocean Park resident Jacob Samuels told the Council “the Village would exacerbate traffic congestion in the area,” and said, “Don’t make the Village any taller, Santa Monica is dense enough. Residents don’t want higher buildings or density. People want to retain the feeling of a small beach town.”
Activist Arthur Harris said the Council was “caught in a difficult situation here between the public that doesn’t want more height and the people who want more low cost housing. The people of this City have said clearly they don’t want the height. Yes, we want affordable housing. Yes, we want to adopt a policy that preserves the diversity of our residential population. But for 27-units to go higher and set a precedence of more height? That’s wrong.”
Sunset Park resident Lorraine Sanchez had a completely different idea for the use of the land, suggesting that “the best use [for the site] is for public space and the City should deal with affordable housing in other ways.”
The staff will now devise an “engagement process” that will allow the community to be involved to be the design of the project, as well as the final decision on its height.
Three local architects’ firms – Koning Eisenberg, Moore Rublr Yudell and Pugh + Scarpa, all of whom have designed other City projects – are principals in Related.
The Council then turned to the schematic design for the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of the publicly owned property at 415 Pacific Coast Highway.
The five-acre beachfront estate was built in the late 1920s by newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst for his longtime mistress, actress Marion Davies. Designed by architect Julia Morgan, who also designed San Simeon for Hearst, the estate had more than 100 rooms, a large and lavish main house, guesthouses, a swimming pool, tennis courts and a dog kennel.
Some of the original buildings, including the main house, were demolished in the 1940s, when the property was converted into a hotel. A locker building and cabanas were added.
In 1959, the State of California assumed ownership of the property and assigned its management to the City of Santa Monica. From 1960 to 1990, it was leased by the Sand and Sea Club, and from 1991-1993 it was operated by the City of Santa Monica. Damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, it was shut down, and has been shuttered for ten years.
Back on the Beach, a café, is located on the southern edge of the site.
Late last year, the City received a $21 million grant from the Annenberg Foundation for the preservation, restoration and reuse of the historic site.
The approved design, according to the City staff report, includes the historic swimming pool designed by architect Julia Morgan “with the colorful tiles reminiscent of designs at Hearst Castle,” a pool deck with areas for chairs and chaise lounges, a new children’s water play area and a new two-story pool house. Its first floor will include changing rooms, lockers, an equipment storage and office functions. The second floor will be used for informal recreation during peak use periods and as an event area at other times during the year.
The beach area will be “organized by two main boardwalks,” have beach volleyball, paddle tennis courts, a small beach concession building and a children’s play area. The New Event House “will accommodate up to 200 guests at public and private functions” and will include an event room, a catering kitchen, restrooms and “elevators for access to the second level Pool House viewing deck and community room.” The event court will be “a paved area shaded by a grove of trees, providing opportunities for viewing and seasonal picnicking.”
The North House will be restored and rehabbed and the ground floor will be “dedicated to interpretive and cultural programming for visitors, meeting spaces, a small kitchen and other office functions. The upper level will provide space for meeting rooms, and associated support spaces. The Terrace Garden will provide an intimately scaled location for small outdoor gatherings.”
The beach Café will be retained and “280 parking spaces will be provided on two lots connected by the existing frontage driveway.” The existing 162 parking spaces will also be retained. A traffic signal has been proposed as “a mitigation measure” for the project.
Resident Tom Snyder called the project design ‘obscure and arcane in terms of listening to the City residents” and claimed it was being “ramrodded” by City staff.
A member of the Los Angeles County Life Guard Association and resident of Santa Monica, Gene Rink, also objected to the design saying, “A year round use plan is the key to longevity. My Association supports a sports athletic based facility.”
Neil Carrey, speaking for the city’s Recreation and Parks Commission, disagreed, saying the design should be approved as City staff addressed the objectives of the community: “This process could not be considered objectionable.”
The Vice Chair of the Landmarks Commission Nina Fresco, said, “This new design commemorates the Marion Davies Estate. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Palisades Beach Road homeowner Jonathon Ornstein asked, “How many fatalities will it be worth to have a beach club?” and called the project “another homeless haven.” He then presented the Council with a petition signed by 36 residents from his area who oppose the project.
Another resident, Joe Marshioni opposes the plan, alleging that it violated Proposition S (approved by voters 1990) and states that “food service is not permitted in the beach overlay district.”
City Attorney Marsha Moutrie responded that Proposition S includes language designed to prevent the proliferation of “excessive” large restaurant development. She also said it has yet to be clarified “whether a catering kitchen is a food service facility.”
Prior to the vote, Katz said, “It’s important to move ahead. This design reflects the public good. This design reflects the past and supports the future.”
Council member Richard Bloom expressed his support by stating, “This facility is a once in a lifetime opportunity for this community.”
After voting to support the design Mayor Pro Tem Bobby Shriver suggested that staff meet with the beach homeowners who are opposed to the project in order to avoid threatened litigation from them.
The Council also approved new rules and regulations for the City’s Community Gardens on Main Street and Park Drive that included removing term limits. It also asked staff to “pursue” additional community garden space at the southeast corner of the Airport and the vacant lot at Michigan and Euclid. Finally, it requested City Staff to report back at the end of the year on how the rules had affected gardener turn-over and whether it had found more garden space.