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Keeping Lionsgate May Be Costly To Santa Monica:

The Santa Monica City Council appears to have a tough choice to make at its meeting tonight: how to keep a prominent entertainment company such as Lionsgate within the city without having to uproot long-term residents at the Village Trailer Park.

As the council considers certifying the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and approve a Development Agreement (DA) between the City of Santa Monica and Colorado Creative Studios at its July 26 meeting, council members may have to find a way to retain a job-provider by allowing its project to go forward without effectively “evicting” nearby residents.

The proposed DA and EIR call for the building of a four-storey, 191,000-plus square foot “creative arts/production facility” at 2834 Colorado Avenue. If the project goes through, Lionsgate would establish its headquarters at the new building.

About two-and-a-half weeks ago, the project was considered by the Santa Monica Planning Commission, where commissioners approved the DA and set up the council’s consideration of the project. The project is expected to provide nearly $1.8 million is benefits, including the extension of Pennsylvania Avenue through the project site (between Stewart and Colorado), a financial contribution to the Expo Light Rail Line, widened sidewalks, local hiring incentives, and the offering of internships to Santa Monica College students.

“Lionsgate is now and will continue to be an anchor entertainment studio for the creative arts media district of Santa Monica,” said Jack Walter, managing partner of the development’s applicant, Colorado Creative Studios. Walter spoke at the July 6 Planning Commission meeting. “The mixed use creative district allows for the continued facilitation of studio-related uses, enabling Santa Monica to maintain a strong presence in the field of creative arts.”

However, resident Catherine Eldridge expressed concern of how the project would maintain a sense of community within the context of the City’s Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE).

“The LUCE’s prime directive is the preservation of neighborhoods. How are we preserving this community if we turn it into a major highway,” she said. “The LUCE also has two objectives that indicate that all creative mixed use sites will have a 50-50 housing-jobs ratio. Where is this project going to get its 50 percent residential? It should apply to the Village Trailer Park site, which could be designed to account for this developer’s housing credits.”

In a recent letter to the editor, Council member Kevin McKeown said while the Colorado Creative Studios DA would be valuable to the city from an economic benefit, approving the project may come at too steep a price.

“The city council Tuesday night will be urged to approve a development agreement at Stewart and Colorado, as a way to keep a valued employer, Lionsgate, in town, and to retain good local jobs – both goals which merit consideration,” McKeown wrote. “It is also important to retain residents. The only way to protect the nearby Village Trailer Park seems to be to coordinate the Lionsgate project with planning for the adjacent parcels.”

McKeown added it was critical to protect the residents at Village Trailer Park.

“Just a year ago, in adopting the new Land Use and Circulation Element, the council adopted language meant to protect the unique affordable housing ownership opportunities at Village Trailer Park,” he wrote. “Now is the time our council must live up to last summer’s commitment. If the approval of the Lionsgate project as currently proposed means the subsequent eviction of our long-term neighbors in the nearby Village Trailer Park, we must pause and seek a better plan. Evicting the powerless is not the Santa Monica way.”

Similarly, Zina Josephs, who wrote an email to council members about the Colorado Creative Studios project that would allow the parcel of land on Olympic Boulevard known as the Lantana Campus to be expanded to include the Lionsgate headquarters and an extension of Pennsylvania Avenue on behalf of the Friends of Sunset Park (FOSP) neighborhood group, expressed concern of potential traffic congestion in the area.

“The FOSP Board opposes any large development whose traffic impacts on residential neighborhoods cannot be mitigated,” she said. “Is the staff saying that it’s okay for the City government to keep approving Development Agreements for more and more large office projects that will further exacerbate the jobs/housing imbalance in Santa Monica because residents will be expected to walk, cycle, or ride the bus in order to compensate for the increase in commuter vehicle traffic caused by these large development projects?

“If so, the FOSP Board of Directors strongly disagrees with that policy/philosophy.”

In his comments at the July 6 Planning Commission meeting, Walter said the establishment of a multi-modal transportation system surrounding the project has been discussed for about six years now.

“Nothing would tickle me more than to have that road not be a road and have it be a bicycle path or a meandering park or a linear park. But that’s not what the plan has been all along. That’s not what the LUCE is all about,” he said.

The Lionsgate headquarters project is actually one of three separate DAs being considered in the mixed use area at the site; the planned Roberts Business Park (or Roberts Center), which calls for the construction of four buildings totaling nearly a quarter million square feet, and the Village Trailer Park, are the other two.

Colorado Creative Studios has been working since on developing its project since the summer of 2006, when the applicant applied to the City to build a campus for more than 50 artist studios. However, plans briefly stalled until Colorado Creative Studios was approached by Lionsgate, who sought to potentially build its headquarters on the proposed development site.

Council members will be considering the DA and EIR during its July 26 meeting in Council Chambers at City Hall; the meeting begins at 5:30 p.m.

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