January 18, 2021 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Split City Council Approves Hines Development; Referendum Possible:

Despite a 300-person rally in front of Santa Monica City Hall urging council members to vote “no” on a proposed mixed-use development dramatically altering the Bergamot Station area, the Santa Monica City Council narrowly approved Tuesday night a slightly modified development agreement (DA) to allow Hines 26th Street LLC to bring a five-building commercial, creative, and residential space to the intersection of Olympic Boulevard and 26th Street.

Council members approved the mixed-used development not only a few hours after the rally protesting the project, but also one week after a vast majority of speakers during public testimony that urged council members to balk at a project potentially adding about 765,000 square feet of building.

When the dust finally settled from last week’s public testimony, a full council began deliberating whether or not to move forward with the Hines DA.

Looming over the impending council vote was the possibility of a referendum to challenge a potentially approved DA.

Indeed, council member Gleam Davis did ask City staff what would happen in the event her and her colleagues did not approve the project. City staff replied Hines would be able to lease out the building currently sitting on the Papermate lot to commercial tenants.

However, with the DA formally approved this week, Hines is now allowed to tear down the former Papermate building and erect the five planned buildings to accommodate commercial, creative, and residential tenants.

It took nearly six hours of council deliberation and City staff negotiating with the developer to ultimately come to a 4-to-3 vote in favor of the project. The “yes” votes were Mayor Pam O’Connor, Pro Tem Terry O’Day, Bob Holbrook, and Gleam Davis. Council members Kevin McKeown, Tony Vazquez, and Ted Winterer were the three “no” votes.

Prior to the vote, council members asked City staff questions about the proposed project.

McKeown, for example, expressed concern a parcel map was not attached to the project.

Vazquez stated the number of affordable housing was not enough; he was also wary of allowing too much office space on site.

Both Davis and O’Day pondered what the alternative project would be if the proposed Hines DA did not go forward and how that would impact the current street network.

O’Day was also concerned with the potential overbuilding of parking.

Meanwhile, Winterer was concerned about water demand, building heights, and the potential of traffic back up on Olympic to get into parking.

After the question-and-answer session was over, a few council members seemed to be general agreement to scale back some of the commercial units and increase the number of residential units.

McKeown believed making the Hines project almost 100 percent residential would help ease traffic in the area. Accordingly, McKeown proposed to limit commercial tenancy to just the first floor, with the remainder of the units on floors two and up be dedicated to residences.

Davis, O’Day, Vazquez, and Winterer were all open to considering more housing over commercial units, but not all of them were on board with McKeown’s proposal.

Mayor Pam O’Connor, who joined Davis, O’Day, and council member Bob Holbrook in opposing McKeown’s proposal, said 82 percent of Santa Monicans leave the City for work into other regions or neighborhoods.

O’Connor also cited population statistics, saying Santa Monica is roughly the same size now as it was about 30 years ago. However, Los Angeles, as a City and a County, dramatically grew in the same time period, meaning Santa Monica’s neighbor on all three sides has more to do with traffic increases than the Hines project.

She also added every project in Santa Monica would collectively meet the Net No New Trips goal of the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) even if individual projects actually have a net gain.

“Even if we don’t grow in Santa Monica, there is still growth around us,” Davis added.

Trying to find a sensible solution, Winterer proposed City staff look into option of having at least one residential building built before or simultaneously to commercial building. The project would still be the same size but with housing being a priority.

However, the motion failed 5-to-2, with only Vazquez and Winterer voting in support.

Finally, Davis moved to approve project as recommended but with an adjustment to the affordable housing schedule by eliminating units allocated to the 180 percent of average median income category (AMI) and merging that category with 150 percent AMI; the remaining categories were shifted to the next category down, respectively.

Also included in the motion: ensuring advanced marketing for available units would target first responders, nurses, teachers, and the like; and, require the average vehicle ridership for the creative office space be 2.0.

Davis had originally proposed in her motion to reduce commercial space by more than 42,000 square feet to make the project an even split between commercial and residential units, but later rescinded the line item,

City Attorney Marsha Jones Moutrie said the motion could not initially call for an approval since her proposal altered the project enough to require changes to the documentation.

Accordingly, the council voted 4-to-3 to make the motion as a direction to City staff. That voted was logged at 9:55 pm. Instead of calling it an evening, the council agreed to take a break so City staff could iron out the necessary paperwork and come back to the dais later in the evening with the suggested changes.

McKeown, Vazquez, and Winterer voted against the City staff direction.

The meeting resumed at midnight, with a 4-to-3 majority validating the Environmental Impact Report (EIR), another 4-to-3 vote approving a mitigation monitoring program, and a third 4-to-3 tally approving the altered DA.

As the meeting was coming to a close, Vazquez asked about the potential of a referendum. If a referendum were to occur and be successful, the council’s decision could potentially be overturned and the developer would be allowed to lease portions of the current structure on site to commercial tenants.

More in-depth coverage of both the Jan. 28 and Feb. 4 meetings on this project will be provided over the course of the next week, including details of how a referendum is possible.

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