After years of slowly moving through the public process and morphing plans, the Hines Development Agreement (DA) to replace the old Papermate building at 1681 26th Street with what a large bloc of residents believed was a bloated mixed-use project ultimately met its demise on Tuesday night.
The Santa Monica City Council voted 4-to-1 with two abstentions to rescind the Hines DA, nullifying the project previously approved by the elected panel three months earlier and would have brought almost 800,000 square feet of development to the Bergamot Station area.
Council members Gleam Davis, Kevin McKeown, Tony Vazquez, and Ted Winterer all voted in favor of rescinding the Hines DA as opposed to allowing its fate to be decided in a special election or on the November ballot.
Mayor Pro Tem Terry O’Day was the sole council member to oppose the rescinding of the Hines DA.
Abstaining from voting were Mayor Pam O’Connor and Council member Bob Holbrook. Coincidentally, both are up for election this year.
The council was faced on Tuesday evening with a decision to either rescind the Hines DA or place the future of the previously approved mixed-use project in the hands of the full Santa Monica electorate.
An overwhelming number of speakers during public testimony urged council members to rescind the Hines DA.
Council members were placed in a position to decide on the future of the Hines DA after a grass roots movement spearheaded by Residocracy.org gathered more than 15,000 signatures within 19 days to petition the elected panel’s decision to approve the multi-use project in February.
Almost three months ago, a split council narrowly approved the Hines DA, a decision that was immediately petitioned by Santa Monica residents.
After the County registrar validated the referendum’s signatures, the Hines DA was officially suspended and the City Council had to decide whether to reverse the decision it made three months ago or allow the voters to decide instead.
Residocracy.org founder Armen Melkonians said the City Council should not put the issue on the ballot and instead vote to rescind the Hines DA.
“We got [more than] 20 percent of the registered voters to sign this petition. To me, that’s a clear message that this project should not go to the ballot,” Melkonians told the council. “The proper thing to do is to act as our representatives [and] to listen to the people.”
A common sentiment that came up during public testimony: Santa Monica residents are angry.
Others said the council has a rare opportunity for a mulligan.
“This is just a bad project and it should die if for no other reason because it’s a bad project,” resident Maryanne LaGuardia told council members, adding Santa Monica has a second chance to get the development of the Papermate project right. “It’s a blessing to have a do-over.”
“Santa Monica is a better place because of this [Residocracy] movement. Our quality of life is not for sale,” Oscar de la Torre told council members. “It’s about the people of this City standing up for what they believe in against very powerful interests.”
Former mayor Mike Feinstein said for those council members who were worried about finding a better project should the Hines DA be rescinded, the City has a track record of being creative and non-linear in developing solutions after previously successful referendums.
One of those non-linear solutions, Feinstein reminded the council, was across the street from City Hall: Tongva Park. The council had previously considered a mid-rise building on the west side of Main Street. However, a referendum prevented the construction of that building and the council eventually shepherded Tongva Park onto the City-owned property.
Feinstein also brought up referendums in 1973 to save the Pier and 1990 preventing commercial development at Santa Monica Airport.
Speaking on behalf of the Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR), Jennifer Kennedy told council members the political organization also urged the Hines DA to be rescinded.
Council member Kevin McKeown reminded everyone a referendum is part of the democratic process, but acknowledged the desire to rescind the Hines DA.
“The decision here tonight is whether we are going to hear the 13,000 to 15,000 signatures as the voice of the community,” McKeown stated.
Council member Terry O’Day said while the Hines DA was not the best project the council could have put forward and his political sense tells him to vote in favor of rescinding the development, his policy beliefs urged him to allow the project to be placed on the November ballot.
“I don’t think this is the best project we could have put forward. It has some concerns I would have liked to have done better,” O’Day said. “The alternative here is not attractive. The project in front of … provides housing next to transit, which is what we all said we wanted. It improves circulation … and adds affordable housing. In comparison to what is there today and what could be built by simply re-occupying, [the Hines DA] does a lot.”
Council member Tony Vazquez said he opposed the Hines DA on a policy basis. Specifically, he was unhappy with the project proposing only one three-bedroom affordable unit.
“I really would like to see this rejected. This area really needs … affordable housing. I think it’s bad policy to approve a project that does not have enough affordable housing,” Vazquez told his colleagues.
Council member Gleam Davis retorted Vazquez’s policy stance, pointing out the Hines DA should not bear the burden of having a certain number of affordable housing units.
Davis echoed some of O’Day’s sentiments, stating reoccupation of the current building – which she labeled as a “Berlin Wall” – would be a disastrous blow to the City, both from a development and policy perspective.
She also believed it was too much to ask the developer to go back to the drawing board.
Just like O’Day, Davis believed the decision to rescind the Hines DA was a political, not a policy, choice.
But Davis also had reservations about having the Hines DA put on the ballot. For one, she believed the project being on the ballot would infuse a lot of money into the election. Davis also believed a ballot initiative to decide the fate of the Hines DA would create divisive wounds that would take years to heal.
With the rescinded DA, it is unclear what will happen next with the Papermate site. It could take another year – or longer – before a potentially revised DA comes in front of the council.
One thing is for sure: the Hines 26th Street LLC team will not be able to go forward with a project bringing five buildings and 765,000-plus square feet of commercial, creative, and residential space to the intersection of Olympic Boulevard and 26th Street.