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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 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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