Sic transit transit center

Well, the other shoe dropped on the Paper Mate site. Hines sold the property and now the old factory’s 200,000 square feet will become offices, with another level of parking being excavated under the existing parking lots.

Turns out that the paranoia of City Council Members Terry O’Day and Gleam Davis was warranted. During the signature gathering on the Residocracy petition they warned, in an op-ed for the Daily Press, that the alternative to the plan the City Council passed was not a better version of the plan, but a repurposing of the existing building as offices, which would mean thousands of car trips, no traffic mitigations, and none of the $32 million in community benefits that were included in the Hines plan.

I’m waiting to see how long it will take for someone to accuse the developers of being greedy because they aren’t building, across from the Bergamot Expo station, plazas, streets, sidewalks, etc., accessible to the public.

Not to mention the nearly 500 units of housing we’re not getting—housing that a lot of people who work in Santa Monica could use, housing that would keep them off the streets, so to speak, during commuting hours. But housing was not a plus for many people who opposed the project, and that explains why they’re happy with the new plan.

If the paranoia of O’Day and Davis turned out to be prescient, Council Member, now Mayor, Kevin McKeown turned out to be not so good in the prediction department. In an op-ed he wrote for the Daily Press, headlined “Calling for more housing from Hines,” he said that fears that Hines would “walk away” from the deal were unfounded; that “[s]uch a walk away hasn’t happened in decades in Santa Monica.” Give McKeown his due; he’s not backing down now that Hines did walk away. Last week he told Santa Monica Next that, “[t]his project [the new one], even as adaptive reuse, will disappoint many of us, but the original Hines proposal failed in even more massive (and likely more permanent) ways to make appropriate use of a challenging site.”

I hope Mayor McKeown is right about the new plan being less permanent, but I doubt it. The “Pen Factory,” as the development is being marketed, will be around for a long time. Not only because it will take a while to amortize the considerable investment in the remodel (notably for underground parking), but also because once the offices are up and running and paying some of the highest rents in the region, the likelihood that an owner would shut the place down for the several years it would take to build a new project is slim. Expect that the Pen Factory will be there for 20 or 30 years at a minimum.

But McKeown was right that the Hines plan should have had more housing and less offices. I’ve been saying that since before the City Council approved the LUCE, which enabled the Hines plan, in 2010. The plan was flawed, and it may sound like blaming the victim, but I blame Hines as much as I blame anyone else for the plan crashing and burning. The Residocracy folks can’t help themselves, they’re going to oppose development no matter what, but Hines had a choice. Hines was warned as far back as 2010, by its friends, that if it added more commercial space and commuter traffic to the corner of 26th and Olympic, it was going to be in trouble.

Hines could have pulled its own chestnuts out of the fire. During the Planning Commission debate over the plan, Commissioner Richard McKinnon, with then-commissioner Sue Himmelrich’s support, proposed a reasonable alternative with less office and more housing. At City Council, Ted Winterer proposed much the same thing, and Tony Vazquez agreed with him. If Hines, at the commission or even at the council, had jumped up and grabbed this offer, the plan could have been approved at the City Council on a 6-1, rather than 4-3, vote.

That could have had a huge impact, because I doubt that Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR) would have joined Residocracy to oppose a plan that had had that much support among the SMRR-endorsed council members. Residocracy without SMRR might have been able to gather the signatures, but they wouldn’t have had much credibility looking ahead to November.

But then . . . maybe Hines didn’t care. The local Hines people put their heads, hearts and souls into the project, for six years, but headquarters back in Dallas probably figured they could find a willing buyer at a good price if the whole thing became just too complicated. Investors can’t wait forever. And Hines did follow the LUCE development standards, and they reduced their original project by 20 percent, so they legitimately thought they were playing fair. After the referendum, they had the right to feel that they’d never get a fair chance.

So, just how bad is the new project for Santa Monica? Pretty bad. But I’ll discuss how bad in a future post.

Thanks for reading.

5 thoughts on “Sic transit transit center

  1. You’re right, Frank. You were right all along. Those protesting forgot one thing — Hines wanted to make a profit; they, and not the city, owned the land. And seeing the city was going to dither for even more years, Hines went to defcon 4 –their original zoning, which is grandfathered in, as it were. So instead of a ‘fresh baby, full of hope and possibility,’ we get what we deserve — ‘an old snorey grandpa’ of an office building, with even more non-taxpayers commuting into the city, creating even more congestion but leaving santa Monicans little to admire, experience or inhabit in return. Another disaster brought to you by amateurs wearing Birkenstocks. Well intentioned but with nothing to show for it.

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  2. Pingback: Gruber: Sic Transit Transit Center | Santa Monica Next

  3. Loss of community benefits is but a fraction of the impact that re occupancy of the Papermate site brings. This failure of urban progress will be remembered for decades as one of Santa Monica’s most costly lost opportunities. Instead of an amenity rich transit oriented development setting a pattern for district-wide sustainable living we will now get a hulking office complex spewing even more traffic than what Hines opponents feared, digging us deeper into the sick car dependent quagmire of last century. Good job folks. I consider this a sad example of NIMBY hubris run amok.

  4. We heard this same argument about loss of community benefits if we don’t approve mega-developments many times – we heard it when the voters forced the City Council to rescind its approval of the Reliance Project at the Santa Monica Airport back in 1990 and the City survived – wonderfully. We heard the same argument a couple of years later with the proposal to build a beach hotel where the Sand & Sea Club had been, and the voters rejected the “community benefit” argument put forth by the developer, and not only did the city survive, we ended up with the wonderful Annenberg House on that site. History has taught us that Santa Monica does not need to sell out to developers to have our city continue the be a place where fortunate people live in a fortunate land.

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