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Santa Monica to Study Impacts of Unpopular Pico Blvd. Development

The City Council wants to see alternatives for a 172,000-square-foot development proposed on Pico Boulevard at Centinela Avenue, on the edge of Santa Monica and West L.A.

In its first crack at a reviewing plans for an unpopular mixed-use project just a couple hundred feet from the 10 freeway on the eastern edge of Santa Monica, the City Council said the project "doesn't make sense" for the neighborhood.

Trammell Crow Co. is seeking approval to build 260 apartments, 2,999 square feet of commercial space and an underground parking garage with 505 stalls on 2.5 acres on Pico Boulevard at Centinela Avenue, totaling about 172,000 square feet. Earlier draft of the plans called for 300 apartments, 5,000 square feet of commercial space, and 554 parking spaces.

The Santa Monica City Council said it shares much of the same concerns as the community. Though the project has been scaled down, they said it's still too big, puts residents too close to the freeway and could generate too much traffic.

"Elsewhere in this city, this project would be great," said outgoing councilman Bobby Shriver.

They agreed on Tuesday to allow Trammell Crow to conduct a state-mandated environmental review assessing the development's impacts on public health, safety, noise and traffic. As part of the review, the council told the developer to look at building a 100-percent commercial project and a much smaller project that retains some housing units.

"There’s a great level of concern about this project, as well as there should be,"  then-mayor Richard Bloom said at the council's Tuesday night meeting.

It will likely be several months before the council considers approving any development on the site.

But not developing it at all isn't realistic, said Gregory Ames, a principal at Trammell Crow.

Ames said the city's zoning codes allow the company to have 45,000 square feet of office space and 67 residential units without City Council approval.

"We honestly believe that our proposal for a mixed-income, garden courtyard apartment project is better and less impactful than the alternative uses," Ames told the council.

The current plans exceed the zoning codes in size, height and density and require a development agreement in exchange for Trammell Crow offering a number of "community benefits."

Bloom said the current plans aim to address the city's need for more housing. He and other council members have said a significant amount of Santa Monica traffic is generated by commuters, so they have approved new developments with low-income housing components in the hopes of getting more people to live and work in the city limits.

Thus, an all-commercial project might not be ideal, Bloom and councilwoman Gleam Davis agreed.

"A commercial project would create a lot more traffic," Davis said. "It's obviously a problematic site, but it seems one the developer is willing to tackle."

Residents have estimated the project, as currently proposed, would generate 2,000 new daily car trips in the Sunset Park neighborhood.

"This project is located one block east of Trader Joe's, near three I-10 freeway exits and entrances, and down the street from the [Santa Monica College] main campus on a section of Pico Blvd. that already has more than 26,000 daily car trips," wrote Debbie Millar and Ken Pappanduros, 33rd Street residents, in a email to the City Council.

In their email, Millar and Pappanduros noted several other developments planned or under construction on that side of town, including Village Trailer Park and Bergamot Transit Village, and 95 apartments under construction in West Los Angeles at the northeast corner of Pico and Centinela.

The Pico corridor is becoming "overwhelmed with development," Stephen Beech, a Santa Monica resident since 1995, wrote in an email to the council. Another resident, Zelda Zinn, said with Santa Monica College and Trader Joe's in the neighborhood, traffic is already "crazy" and "unbearable."

"We have lived in Santa Monica since 1996 and over the years we have seen a steady increase in rush hour traffic on Pearl [Street]," residents Coco and Frans Klinkenberg wrote to the council. "Over the last couple of years, it has become nearly impossible, not to mention unsafe, to back out of our driveway during the morning and evening commutes."

Eliminating the project's housing component could increase traffic woes, but it would alleviate some of the concerns about the impacts of freeway pollution, the council said.

"The proposed development will be directly next to the 10 freeway, with the associated noise and pollution that entails. How can that possibly be healthy for the residents?" longtime 34th Street resident Diane Kuyoomjian questioned in an email to the city. "And surely those persons who need low income housing will have little choice but to accept an unhealthy environment for themselves and their families."

For the safety of residents, councilman Terry O'Day said he might be in favor of a 100 percent commercial project. "I didn’t see that coming [into the meeting], but I’m swayed by the testimony I heard tonight," he said.

"It may not be the best location, especially for building for people to reside in," echoed councilman Bob Holbrook. "It would probably be a great community space."

Councilman Kevin McKeown's critique was the most extreme, "I don’t think there’s a way for us to make this project work," he said.

Dan Charney December 04, 2012 at 07:25 AM
My - it's the Sacrificial Lamb- how hypocritical - but all these other monstrous projects all over do make sense? Outrageous- especially for Mr. Shriver- I am glad whenever any more of these huge horrid projects get rejected but not to provide cover for the growing concern for green lighting so many others
stewart resmer December 04, 2012 at 12:53 PM
I'm with you on this one Dan when it comes to over development, how many times to how many people have to come to city hall or send emails and make phone calls when these projects come before council and are approved? In 1963 when the freewway was being built who would have ever have thought that there would be a tale of 2 cities the way we see here where every where we look in this area greater and greater projects are ubdertaken as traffic snarls already? Thanks SMRR.
W Smith December 04, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Another project would be a DISASTER. Perhaps the City Council members should be forced to live in the vicinity of where these new projects are built both before and after to experience the massive traffic and inconvenience. There's already a full city block development project building on Centinela & Pico which will kill any traffic movement when completed. Right now 2 lanes are regularly closed, the parking lane and a traffic lane. The entrance left from Centinela Blvd North is backs up with 10+ cars starting in the early AM. The 26th street 10 Fwy exit backs up to Bundy, so safe 10 east access is impossible because you have to enter the freeway and immediately jump 2 lanes to the left while cars vie to exit right in bumper to bumper traffic. The Bundy 10 west entrance backs up through the light at Pico and on the left and right turns on Pico. This building frenzy is nuts. Any further development thoughts should be extinguished immediately.
Babs December 04, 2012 at 04:27 PM
Clearly the owners of Trammel Crow Co. have never tried to drive on Pico/Centinela at rush hour when people are trying to go to work, get home and/or go to Trader Joe's. It is a nightmare. When one car tries to turn left on Pico, going west, it bottle necks. I understand why TCC doesn't give a d*&^ if there is traffic. But to say it that commuters cause the traffic, is sort of a "duh'" moment, of course they do. But that doesn't mean that just because you build units there, there will less traffic on the surrounding streets. We are are currently seeing such a rise in traffic that if these units are built, it will make the corridor a greater nightmare to live next to. Gleam Davis is insane is she actually believes that "A commercial project would create a lot more traffic," and "It's obviously a problematic site, but it seems one the developer is willing to tackle." Really? How would TCC tackle the traffic problem? Can they widen the streets? Can they relocate the on-ramp? If they cannot do both of these, then there is no way on this planet that they can tackle this traffic problem.
Glenn E Grab December 04, 2012 at 05:59 PM
try driving up Centinela and turning left on Pico, especially after 2 PM, or in the morning....impossible, the traffic there's a nightmare already...this will help?....
Dan Charney December 04, 2012 at 10:24 PM
It's not just this one- this is just one of the 30 in the hopper in an already absurdly congested city- there is no really creative plan for the city - overall- it's piecemeal - same cookie cutter giant condos with a retail area and some offices- depending on the area- this city is already choking- I am glad they stopped this one but they have to stop a lot more- many more people need to make their voices heard and in person- the council and the other agencies have sold out- all of them- let's all wake up now -not after the damage is done- and file lawsuits and go to our graves waiting for compensation- the city needs to drop a lot of employees - top and bottom- and have a comprehensive plan that unites areas - not just more of this boring mass of bodies and cars- start flooding the council in how you feel- some of these 30 can be stopped or paired down- but many of the worst and in the works- I never go near downtown anymore- want to see what areas they have targeted next for their new boring plazas ? Wherever there is current new road work - areas anywhere near the beach and business areas of the new and grim Silicon Beach- they are most likely next- speak out now and often-
Dan Charney December 04, 2012 at 10:26 PM
Oh and by the way- take a look at what areas they are targeting- past, present and future- none of it it north of Montana- no chance to disturb the rich - but they are doing away with the safety net for the most vulnerable- and they are glad about it-
Glenn E Grab December 05, 2012 at 07:01 AM
traffic on tne surface streets in Santa Monica is like Tapei or Shanghai at rush hour, and those cities have millions of residents....how did it get so bad?...
Brenda Barnes December 05, 2012 at 06:59 PM
SCAG issued a report just a few months ago saying it is unhealthy--375 different diseases!--to put housing within 500 feet of a freeway in SoCal. Gleam Davis chaired that committee. Why is SM acting like it is exempt from the laws of physics and biology? So entitled, it's disgusting. They have no plan to run the City without developer money. We will file comments about every EIR and take action against illegal developments, to delay them all until the Council can be changed in 2014. We were busy with legal actions about Village Trailer Park (the destruction of which is never going to happen, since we will keep on fighting it the way we have been). So we didn't start political work until too late for this election. I was shocked how many people came out on their own to say they just hate how SM has gotten to be, all because the developers' lapdog (DL) Council approves every development any of their contributors propose.. Enough traffic. Far too many people texting and not watching where they are walking at lunch time, if you call what they are doing on 6-inch heels while texting and talking to each other walking. The Bloom DL Council sold out downtown, but we are not going to let the cancer spread. Either they follow the no new net car trips policy of LUCE--which they clearly put in just to get it passed, never meaning to really stop any of this development tsunami--or they fight us in court about every single one of these. Then 2014.
Brenda Barnes December 05, 2012 at 07:41 PM
I also like how the Council constantly uses straw men and red herrings to make decisions. They are real winners: developers' lapdogs using red herrings and straw men to try to buffalo residents into accepting a development tsunami as unavoidable. Is that enough of a mixed metaphor? It's about as mixed up as the DL Council. They always knock down the "no development" straw man. They do it again here. Who said no development? The Code allows what it allows--they get that, not no development. "Community benefits" to allow more is code for money into the general fund to run the City. When do we ever see any traffic impact alleviation or free child care or parks in our neighborhoods? Never. The Council spends our "community benefit" money instead on things like $55 million for two parks in front of City Hall to provide green space at taxpayers' expense for the Village of SM the Council approved without green space. Then there's the old chestnut (another metaphor??) red herring of pretending to care about people's health by eliminating the housing component required by the Code--which they always say is to put people close to their jobs so to reduce traffic. When developers really want all-commercial anyway, then you take out the housing, allow three times the commercial, and pretend you did it for the residents. One rationalization after another, always to the end of allowing developers far more than residents want.
Brenda Barnes December 05, 2012 at 08:10 PM
I love this: " Ames said the city's zoning codes allow the company to have 45,000 square feet of office space and 67 residential units without City Council approval. "We honestly believe that our proposal for a mixed-income, garden courtyard apartment project is better and less impactful than the alternative uses," Ames told the council." Building three times as much creates less impact? Sure. Only a DL Council would pretend to buy such nonsense, but they do it over and over and think all we residents are idiots to believe they believe what they are saying. What they really are saying is they are politicians for life, so anything developers want, they want. I say make all the developers stay within the current zoning codes until we can get the traffic, congestion, and constant construction noise down to a bearable level.
Brenda Barnes December 05, 2012 at 10:16 PM
Start watching, too, for these developments actually being parking lots for the Expo line. SM has no space for and knows the populace would never tolerate enormous on-grade parking lots like the one at the Expo station at Robertson and Venice in Culver City. So these developments all have far too much parking for what they are, and the truth is, they are hiding the parking lots for Expo under buildings. Notice on this one they started with twice as much building space proposed--an absolute routine with them: propose a ridiculous amount of development and then brag that you cut it in half to try to hide from the public the fact that the amount is still ridiculous--and when they cut it in half, they reduced the parking spaces by only 10%. It's a shell game. (Somehow I just can't avoid mixing metaphors.) The Expo line from there is at Olympic and Centinela, and there's a station planned at Bundy and Olympic, so they'll have free shuttle buses from their parking lots to the stations and charge $100 a month for parking and still make more than charging $10 a month a square foot for commercial space, with no amenities they have to pay for except security for the parking lot and the shuttle buses. Our website at www.occupysm.com was hacked and went down eight hours after we posted an article saying Bloom took bribes from developers to put out the smear flyers against Butler--and it has not gone up again in two weeks! These people are devious and well-connected.
Brenda Barnes December 05, 2012 at 10:47 PM
My husband is a planner with a masters in Land Use Planning from Cambridge and 31 years' experience in Europe and North America, so many years ago we started planning a book on how to decipher planning jargon. I feel like I'm writing it now one day at a time watching the DL City Council. "Community benefits" means the City's cut in return for letting a developer buy a development agreement allowing 3 or 4 times as much development as the zoning codes allow.
Dan Charney December 06, 2012 at 12:51 AM
This is also why the little wonderful historic SM Airport is getting so much crap thrown at it- those DL are salivating like coyotes in a sheep yard over it- can't wait to destroy it- I hate corporate speak - it's always the opposite of what they say - so whatever they say - just now they mean the opposite- no need for Rosetta Stone
Glenn E Grab December 06, 2012 at 04:44 PM
if the airport ever "goes condo" the traffic jam on Centinela-Bundy will be unimaginable
Brenda Barnes December 06, 2012 at 05:45 PM
They're arguing now over what to study about SMO. We should get involved, before they frame it so there's nothing left to decide but close it or not. Then they'll bring out the "highest and best use" and "we need more housing" shills. I like the "vibrant economy" line, too, as though we don't see the whole picture, poor lame souls that we are.. We at Village Trailer Park are looking for a storefront in SM or WLA to start a political and legal front to fight this. Paralegals supervised by an atty to intake legal cases like retaliatory evictions or decreasing amenities as the start of "attrition" so they have fewer people to oppose development and to have to pay real damages to later. Petitions to recall Council members who vote for every development, and coordinate with campaigns of candidates who commit to being sure residents are served by every development, if any are approved. This stuff about the Municipal Code allowing a certain amount of development without Council approval can also be changed. It's too late to save some neighborhoods, but we don't have to lose the whole City. We can do traffic counts and ideas on remediation, maybe some closed streets other than the Promenade, for residents rather than businesses. Be creative and get real solutions. There are true green designers--not greenwashed like the Council--with amazing ways to use space creatively, even financially rewarding. The idea you have to have development to make money is so 1980.
Brenda Barnes December 06, 2012 at 06:13 PM
We'll work with WLA people affected by what SM does. There's lots of research on edges being particularly creative, so areas like next to Venice and WLA are unique and should have their own coordination and identity. We also have to be careful on what is happening. For instance, the development the article is about is not stopped. They gave permission to do an EIR about it, so it is going ahead. Also, alternative ideas they said investigate won't happen or will get short shrift. When they did that about VTP "Staff" came up with the lamest reasons you can imagine for not doing it. "Staff" wasn't fired. It's a game, a front to make people think the Council is not approving obnoxious development when they are. Then years later they claim the developer worked so hard to accommodate everyone, it would be unfair and expose the City to a suit for inverse condemnation to not let development go forward "somewhat" changed. In our case that meant reducing the size--over 4 times neighborhood density--by 8% and leaving 10 out of 109 residents--who they would be, the land speculator's choice, yet!--in a new ghetto off an industrial side street instead of our awesome place with large pool, 200 mature trees, huge iconic mid-Century community building with library, fireplaces, two bathrooms with hot showers, and impressive entry off Colorado. We need to get on the special notice list to hear about every step and respond. They cut-and-paste--we can, too..
Gary Kavanagh January 05, 2013 at 07:05 PM
I support the development of more housing opportunity in Santa Monica, and thus find myself rarely in agreement with the don't let anyone else live here crowd that attends every city meeting, but this is the wrong site for concentrating housing. The reason to oppose this project is the proximity to the freeway and the health impacts on potential residents. A few speakers did address this issue and the latest research is increasingly conclusive of the negative health outcomes for children especially to live near freeways. We already have far too much housing concentrated by the freeway, and as long as we continue to push hundreds of thousands of cars through that corridor, we should be encouraging new housing development further away from it.

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