Pausing to catch her breath, the speaker at the podium explained she had raced up the steps to Council Chambers. She was part of the overflow audience in the lobby below waiting her turn to speak at the Council hearing on the future of the Santa Monica arts venue, Bergamot Station.
The public hearing was a testament to the democratic process and, just in case anyone didn’t already know it, a display of the wealth of artists and artistic knowledge that is an essential part of the Santa Monica ethos, a distinguishing character of Santa Monica culture.
More than 100 people spoke to the Council about the importance of Bergamot Station. Speakers expressed their concern that Bergamot remain an open, inviting, accessible, and vibrant arts center. They used words such as authentic and asked that site development continue and expand the focus on the arts.
The Council was warned against formulaic entities that could be built anywhere, but if built at Bergamot would diminish the meaning of Bergamot Station in a way that could not be reclaimed. They spoke of Bergamot being a nationally known center for the arts. They spoke about the arts and about environmental sustainability, about education and community.
The issue was not whether or not to develop. The issue was how much development. What would be the character of that development? How would it be financed? Who would be the developer?
Many thoughtful and thought provoking ideas were presented and discussed. William Turner, a gallerist, and member of the Bergamot Station Gallery Cultural Association, talked about the stakeholders and proposed the formation of a ‘working group’ to pair with the City and the developer.
The tantalizing information of interest in Bergamot Station from the stellar musical group Jacaranda and from Cal Arts and UCLA to be cultural non-profit partners shows both the importance of Bergamot Station in the arts world and the continually increasing opportunities for the arts in Santa Monica.
At the conclusion of more than four hours of public testimony it was the Council’s turn. Councilman Kevin McKeown opened the discussion on Bergamot saying, “We must build, but do it without losing the authenticity of Bergamot and the existing galleries and Museum.”
Councilwoman Gleam Davis said, “Everyone agrees that Bergamot is special and that we have to keep it special. The question is how to bring Expo into the mix and maintain what has organically developed over the last 20 years.”
Councilman Tony Vazquez then moved that “the Worthe team be selected as the partner for the project and that a working group be formed to work with the development team and the City.”
Vazquez specifically excluded the staff recommended language that the “vision be affirmed” as he wanted the vision to be part of the work of the development team, the working group the City and the community.
McKeown seconded the motion and Davis asked for a friendly amendment for setting time frames for the stages of the process.
Councilman Ted Winterer suggested that the development team be asked to form a working group for Council approval. Winterer suggested that would help expedite the process as the Worthe team had a good knowledge of the stakeholders.
Councilman Bob Holbrook suggested that it would be a mistake to select the Worthe team as it was clear that extra, nearby land was going to be needed to meet the goals of the project and that 26th Street TOD Partners, which was under consideration, already owned nearby land.
There was general discussion among the Council members about the importance of the labor peace agreements (a term of art for a specific type of agreement between unions and employers) which the Worthe team and the union had already completed; the importance of phasing the project to first renovate the gallery buildings; how to protect the galleries and the museum; and questions about how to continue the subsidy to the Big Blue Bus and other financial considerations.
It was after midnight when the motion to select the Worthe team as the development partner was passed. Council members Vazquez, McKeown, O’Day, Davis, and Winterer voted yes. Councilman Holbrook voted no. Santa Monica mayor Pam O’Connor was not present at Tuesday’s meeting.
Gallerist William Turner said, “We’re thrilled that the Council heard us loud and clear. They got the need to protect and preserve the valuable and fragile resource that is Bergamot.
“We’ve received tremendous support from the Neighborhood Groups and the Santa Monica community. Artists, students, residents, community members and visitors all benefit from the work of Bergamot Station. People depend on the free and open access to the arts that defines Bergamot Station. It’s important that we tread carefully and don’t lose what we have as we reach for more.
“We’re ecstatic that the Council accepted the idea of the formation of a working group. There’s no way to get a better product than to work with stakeholders throughout the process.
“All teams were persuasive but we’re very comfortable with the Worthe team as they had, as part of the team, the architects who were here at the beginning when we first formed Bergamot. Their proposal seemed to best get what is needed now.”
Fred Fisher of Frederick Fisher and Partners, the architects with the Worthe team said, “My partner Joe Coriaty and I were so fortunate to be in at the beginning of Bergamot Station and now, to be here again and to have the opportunity to design an arts center at the 26th and Olympic stop on the Expo Line is to be part of the next generation of life in the urban growth of the City. For us, as architects, it doesn’t get better than that.
“We know we’re in for an intense process and that this is just the start of an engagement with gallerists, the museum, residents and neighbors, the community and the City. The shape of the project will come out of the process but the process needs the participation of all the stakeholders.”
The City of Santa Monica slogan “We do the right thing right” was evident at the Sept. 9 hearing for Bergamot Station. It was shown in the respect and thoughtfulness of the public speakers, the quality of the teams being considered, the work of staff and the deliberations and decisions of the Council members.
Bergamot Station was once a train station. With the Expo line the train will be back. It’s also another beginning. An optimistic beginning of imagining and shaping the future of the arts at Bergamot Station.
What Say You?