In Santa Monica : 400 Vow to Fight Project at Airport
More than 400 protesters from half a dozen neighborhood organizations in Los Angeles and Santa Monica have pledged to organize opposition to a proposed office complex at Santa Monica Airport.
They met during a packed Santa Monica Planning Commission hearing on the airport project Wednesday night.
Sunset Park Associated Neighbors and a Los Angeles group called HOME (Homeowners Organized to Monitor the Environment) said they will lead the efforts of those opposing the $280-million, 1.4-million-square-foot project.
The complex would include eight 6-story buildings surrounding courtyards planted with palm and orange trees, a movie studio complex with 10 sound stages and five parking structures for 3,668 cars.
“We’re going to have a strategy meeting in the future and start working with the other neighborhood organizations,” said Kathleen Schwallie, a spokeswoman for the Sunset Park group.
Project opponents told the commission that noise, air pollution and traffic from the complex of offices and movie studios would destroy the residential character of neighborhoods near the project.
“This project is special because it is on a site owned by the people of Santa Monica,” Sunset Park spokesman Eric Chen told the commission. “We should decide what happens on that site.”
But those favoring the development on a 37.5-acre site south of the airport argued that traffic will be bad even if nothing is built, that the campus-like complex is beautifully designed and that the city needs the $10 million a year the project would bring.
“Whether we build another stick in this town ever again, we will have more traffic in this city, and our lives will be impacted by that,” said former Mayor James Conn, representing a group called Santa Monicans for the Airport Endowment. “What I beg of you in this situation is to not diminish the ability of the city of Santa Monica to sustain the services we have become accustomed to.”
The 5-hour hearing at the Civic Auditorium drew many Los Angeles residents, including representatives from Los Angeles Councilman Marvin Braude’s and Councilwoman Ruth Galanter’s offices who spoke against the project.
But there was also a large number of Santa Monica protesters, especially from Sunset Park Associated Neighbors.
Christopher G. Caldwell, a lawyer for the Sunset Park group, called the project’s environmental impact report “a case study of an EIR that is flawed in every principal respect.”
He said the report presents a best-case rather than a worst-case scenario, for example by using deflated figures to calculate traffic generated by people coming to the site to eat at a proposed restaurant, Caldwell said.
But Henry A. Lambert, president of the Reliance Development Group, said the project’s 22,000 square feet of retail space will not generate much additional traffic.
“We’ve tried to figure out just the right amount of retail to discourage people from driving out to lunch and provide all the sundries and things an office park needs,” he said.
Caldwell, however, disputed the report’s analysis of the project’s traffic impact.
He said the city is guilty of “circular reasoning” for believing that because so many developments have already been approved in the area, one more won’t affect traffic.
“The whole point of (the California Environmental Quality Act) and the whole point of the cumulative impacts analysis process is that you have to look at the big picture, and at some point you have to say, ‘This is where we’re going to draw the line,’ ” he said.
The presence of groups such as Sunset Park Associated Neighbors and Mid-City Neighbors at the hearing gave hope to Los Angeles residents who have opposed the project for years, said HOME spokesman Greg Thomas, a Mar Vista resident.
Thomas said he believed all along that Santa Monica officials would respond only if Santa Monica residents started protesting.
But Peggy Curran, director of community and economic development for Santa Monica, said the city staff has been responsive throughout the process by meeting with homeowners groups and mailing notices of the hearing to 3,000 Santa Monica and Los Angeles residents.
In addition, Curran said, the staff has recommended reducing the size of the project by 21%, or almost 300,000 square feet, to lessen its impact on surrounding neighborhoods. Such a reduction, she added, would cost the city about $26 million over 20 years.
“We felt that many of the concerns that the neighbors raised about traffic and about building heights warranted our consideration,” she said. “We evaluated the project and decided to propose the cut.”
The proposed reduction has been greeted coolly by the project’s opponents.
The Sunset Park group maintains that it is against the project, period. HOME and Galanter favor a 50% reduction in the project’s density.
Developer Lambert said he could accept a 21% cut but not 50%.
“We feel the size recommended now by the staff is smaller than we had hoped for to begin with, and we feel that economically it would be difficult,” he said. “On the other hand, we feel to reduce it any more would destroy it.”
Because the city asked his company to develop the site, Lambert added, it would be unfair for the city to back out at this late stage.
“We spent more than $1.8 million on this project because we felt the community wanted the project,” he said.
Curran said the city needs the revenue from the project to pay for social services, parks and renovation of its pier and civic auditorium.
Santa Monica would receive $10 million to $15 million a year in lease revenues, and Lambert’s company has agreed to pay another $1 million for a public arts fund and $6 million for a parks and housing fund. The developer also agreed to build a day-care center on the site for employees and neighbors that would accommodate 100 children.
The airport project hearing was continued until Wednesday, when the Planning Commission is expected to vote on its recommendation to the City Council. No new public testimony will be heard except for those who submitted speaker’s cards Wednesday but did not speak.