So far two people I know and two I don’t have asked me to sign the referendum against the Hines Paper Mate project. The proponents are getting their message out. But I have declined to sign.
The Hines plan isn’t perfect, and I have standing to say that. As the plans for the Paper Mate site went through four years of gestation as the City wrote the LUCE and then adopted it in 2010, I argued in my Lookout columns that the City’s planners and consultants were calling for too much commercial development in the Bergamot area, which includes the Paper Mate site. My view was that all development in excess of existing zoning there should be residential.
Except for former mayor Paul Rosenstein, I don’t remember anyone from the public during the LUCE process arguing against the amount of commercial development — certainly not any of the key people who are today behind Residocracy.org, the organization that is sponsoring the referendum. This was odd, because in 2008 the RIFT initiative was all about limiting commercial development. At the end of the LUCE process, former mayor Dennis Zane appeared before the council to criticize the amount of commercial development, but by then it was too late.
Ted Winterer, then on the Planning Commission, and Kevin McKeown on the City Council, argued for less commercial development, and there was a small reduction in part of the area (not the part with the Paper Mate site) before the council passed the LUCE on 7-0 vote.
Yet today critics see the amount of office space in the Hines plan as the worst element of it – certainly the element that will contribute to gridlock.
Why does the LUCE call for more commercial development in the Bergamot area? In fairness, a lot had to do with the times. City Council finally approved the LUCE in summer 2010, and the LUCE was drafted in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash, when governments everywhere, including here, were panicking about their budgets. The council received a financial analysis that pointed out, not surprisingly, that commercial development was better for the City’s bottom line than residential (more taxes, less services to provide).
We who predicted that more commercial development near the Water Garden, the Arboretum, and Colorado Center, would never pass a traffic smell test and that the city needed housing more than it needed “creative office” jobs, were told by planners that the traffic issue was moot because office development would attract more riders to the Expo line and that the housing that the city needs would be provided elsewhere — downtown and along the boulevards.
Three-and-a-half years later the City’s budget is on the mend, every housing development proposed for the boulevards is under attack, and folks who once said they loved the LUCE in part because of the community benefits it would link to development, now dispute even the concept of community benefits and proceed to attack City Hall for profligacy in the delivery of the exceptional services they demand.
Not to mention smell tests, but a more-or-less trivial (in the big scheme of things) increase in traffic predicted to be caused by the Paper Mate project has provoked a backlash that would not only stop the development, but also would likely kill the Bergamot Area Plan the City Council approved last fall.
So I understand why people support the referendum; indeed, Paul Rosenstein does, and that means a lot. But I don’t support it for two basic reasons.
The first is that while the plan that City Council approved is not perfect, it’s pretty good. It’s got the new streets that connect old industrial areas to the Expo line, it’s got housing in a good location, and it only adds about 150,000 square feet to the commercial development that is already there. The plan is so much better than the hulking factory that is there now, that it is unfathomable to me that anyone would risk having the place reoccupied. (Council Members Terry O’Day and Gleam Davis expressed this argument well in a letter they wrote to the Lookout.)
True, it would better if, as proposed by Ted Winterer at City Council and Richard McKinnon on the Planning Commission, those 150,000 square feet of office were converted to residential, and I wish that Hines had grabbed that deal. But Hines didn’t, and I don’t believe that 150,000 square feet of office development in a sea of millions of the same is worth having a war over and worth losing, quite possibly, the benefits of the plan that were worked out over seven years of planning and negotiations.
My second reason for opposing the referendum is that, as the referendum’s proponents say, the referendum is about “changing the nature of politics in Santa Monica.” If I can summarize my first reason for opposing the referendum as “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” then I can summarize the second as “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
I mean, look around – compared to the rest of the California, or the universe even, is Santa Monica poorly governed? For the past 30 years, haven’t politics-as-usual here, overall, done a rather good job? In 2012 did you wonder why Richard Bloom, when he won election to the State Assembly, practically ran on a platform of being “Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom?” When it comes to government, complain all you want, but for everyone else in the region, Santa Monica is the top.
Even looking at Santa Monica through an anti-development lens, how many people realize that for 20 years, since the Water Garden opened, there has been virtually no new (not counting re-habs and replacement projects) commercial development in Santa Monica? Nearly all the development has been housing, which we need at all income levels, and which does not cause the gridlock people complain about.
Where is this massive over-development I keep hearing about?
Yes, my soul too has been crushed as I sit in traffic (as if souls are less crushed elsewhere in Southern California), but consider this: if you’re a Santa Monica resident and you work, your average commute time is significantly less than elsewhere in the region.
Doesn’t it mean something that if you own a house here, your property held its value remarkably well during the Great Recession? That we have excellent services and great schools, which our residents and City support? That we’ve consistently added over 30 years more park acreage? And doesn’t it mean something that our rent control laws have resulted in a remarkably stable community?
For more than 30 years the creative tensions in Santa Monica politics – including tensions between SMRR and its opponents, tensions among the various elements within SMRR, tensions created by shifting alliances to achieve various important goals, such as those relating to education, good jobs, homelessness, and youth violence – have been just that, creative.
The referendum approach is a blunt instrument, and I fear that from it the city will sustain blunt instrument trauma.
Thanks for reading.