By Bianca Barragan, May 15, 2014
In February, the Santa Monica City Council approved the huge Bergamot Transit Village multi-use development for a site in the Bergamot Arts District near a future stop on the Expo Line extension. Two days ago, following a massive NIMBY protest that managed to get the project on to a future ballot for a public referendum, they unapproved it. Now it's back to the drawing board for developer Hines, which has been working on this project since 2007. This may be one of the most controversial projects in a city known for development controversy. We've traced its sordid history:
August 2007: Texas-based developer Hines announces plans to put "two- to four-story office buildings totaling about 300,000 square feet" on the seven-acre site at Twenty-Sixth and Olympic (formerly a Paper Mate factory, now unused). Hines reportedly paid "over $75 million" for the property. It's predicted the property will be used for the entertainment industry.
December 2009: The first community meeting about the project happens this month. Hines's plans (now including a 71-foot building and retail space) first start to worry anti-development Santa Monicans, who cite fears about traffic. Although the "massive" development is right next to a stop on the planned Expo Line's route, many are doubtful that will encourage car-free trips. Said one resident, "You're saying people are never going to go outside of that building complex — that's unbelievable, that's like a jail."
January 2010: A short article announcing the planning commission meeting for the Bergamot Transit Village states that the development will have "far-reaching, irreversible impacts" on the community and encourages residents to show up and complain about it. Opposite the print article is a letter to the editor "blasting" the project.
December 2010: The project's grown to 80 feet in height, and now includes 2,000 car spaces, further irking and reinforcing the fears of those who worry that this so-called transit-oriented development would flood the city with cars.
March 2011: The anti-Bergamot campaign starts to get nasty, with residents accusing some city councilmembers of being biased in favor of the project because their campaigns got money from the developer of the 969,000-square-foot Transit Village. Mayor Pro Tempore Gleam Davis picks apart the aesthetics: "the proposal is too reliant on monolithic, rectangular shapes."
March 2011: Bergamot is sent back to the design drawing board with instructions to jazz up the "insular campus with tall, unvaried buildings with blank walls ..." and address residents' concerns with the design.
June 2011: The development receives an unofficial federal blessing from US Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, who tours the project site then gives $652,000 toward the building of the Transit Village. The award also puts SaMo in the running for more federal money for public transit.
August 2011: Hines presents a newly redesigned Bergamot. It's smaller (767,000 square feet) and incorporates a park facing Nebraska Avenue, pocket parks throughout, and a new arrangement for the five buildings that reduces the dreaded canyon effect. Retail space has also been shrunken down from 83,712 square feet to 47,123. Neighbors are not impressed and want it to be even smaller.
February 2012: Santa Monicans against the Transit Village get some support from the West LA Neighborhood Council, which votes to oppose the project. "I think everyone is sick and tired of Santa Monica dumping traffic in our district with no mitigations possible. The agenda is to build and grow, which is fine if it's done in a responsible way," says the West LA Council Chairman.
March 2012: The LA City Council jumps on the anti-Bergamot bandwagon, fearing that the mitigation efforts in the project's draft environmental impact report are "inadequate." They move to ask SaMo to extend the public comment period on the DEIR. Meanwhile, Santa Monica's director of City Planning hopes to up the number of residences in the project, reasoning that maybe if more people who work at Bergamot can live in SaMo, they won't clog up the roads trying to get in.
May 2012: The planning commission's review of the Bergamot Transit Village gets pushed from June 2012 all the way to 2013. Opponents rejoice. City planners want changes, and it's hinted that the megaproject might reappear in 2013 with more housing and less office space, which would alter the number of affordable housing units available.
May 2012: When the EIR for Bergamot is finally finished, it is 8,711 pages long—75 percent of which are dedicated to traffic analyses—and has cost more than $1 million to compile. Says one councilmember, "I'm not going to read 8,000 pages."
September 2013: New plan, same hate. Developer Hines comes in with a plan for 471 apartments (including 27 live/work units for artists), as much as 374,423 square feet of creative office space, 15,500 square feet of restaurant space, and nearly 14,000 square feet of retail space; it's criticized for "blandness," and called "a mini-LA Live" like that's a bad thing. Buildings are still five to seven stories tall and there are still about 2,000 parking spaces. Next stop: the city's design review, then a return to the planning commission, "who will vote on whether to recommend that the city council move forward with a development agreement."
October 2013: The planning commission preps to make their recommendation to the city council for the Transit Village, but grassroots group Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights is demanding even more housing. They'd like to see the development have 60 percent housing and 40 percent office space.
January 2014: The cIty council finally gets the chance to make a decision on the plans. 150 Santa Monicans comes out to air their grievances, prompting the council to spend so much time listening that they have to push a decision to February. That meeting will not allow public comments.
February 2014: After so many years, so much work, the city council approves the plan and makes only small changes to the Transit Village, which currently includes 427 apartments, about 30,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space, 1,926 parking spaces, 1,284 bike spaces, and around 375,000 square feet of office space.
March 2014: Peeved NIMBY group Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City file a lawsuit against the city, hiring one of the lawyers who (successfully) fought to repeal the Hollywood Community Plan. They're also ready to put the matter on the ballot for the November election.
May 2014: Just kidding! A "NIMBY-fueled change of heart" causes Santa Monica to take back all that good stuff they said about the Bergamot Transit Village. So it's either back to the drawing board, occupy the site as it is now, or do something with the land that it's already zoned for.
We look forward to many more years of drama, Bergamot Transit Village.