By Frank Gruber
"Make no little plans."-- advice attributed to Daniel
Burnham, American architect and city planner.
December 21, 2009. Last Tuesday at a public meeting
in Virginia Avenue Park, Hines, the developer of the Lantana post-production
facilities on Olympic Boulevard, announced its plans to redevelop
the nearby site of the old Papermate factory. (See Developer
Promises Sustainable Community with Large Project.) The now
empty plant, which opened in 1957, is directly across Olympic
from Bergamot Station, a future stop on the Expo line light rail.
The location is an important one, and as local land use consultant
Howard Robinson remarked at the meeting, it will take something
big to open up the current monolithic, seven-acre super-block
and change it from being a barrier to a connection between the
station and the districts to the north.
Hines' initial plans are big.
Although the plans are something like an initial offer, Hines
developed them with an eye to the development standards in the
draft update to the land use and circulation elements (LUCE) of
the general plan. The draft LUCE calls for a 3.5 "floor-to-area
ratio" (FAR) for the site, meaning the development of square
footage of buildings of up to three and a half times the area
of the site. The site is about 300,000 square feet of land, and
that translates, in Hines' plan, into about 1,000,000 square feet
There is nothing wrong with this size of a development at this
site, and the heights Hines proposes are also reasonable.
But the mix of uses is wrong. Drastically wrong.
Hines is proposing a mix of about 60 percent commercial, mostly
job-creating post-production and similar uses with a little retail,
and about 40 percent residential. The draft LUCE calls for less
commercial on the site, 40 percent, but even that would be too
While normally cities benefit from jobs, the context is that
Santa Monica allowed a vast overbuilding of office space under
the 1984 general plan, approximately 9 million square feet instead
of the 4.5 million planned for. It will take the City at least
20 years of allowing the building of nearly exclusively residential
development to make up for this.
Last year I opposed the Residents Initiative to Fight Traffic
(RIFT), the aim of which was to reduce commercial development
in the city. My opposition was not because I disagreed with that
goal, but because I disagreed with tying the hands of the City
Council to shape development policies in the city. I trust that
when this plan reaches the Planning Commission and the council,
that they will revise it and reduce the job-creating component.
I hope they also change the LUCE.
Post-production and office developments typically generate three
or four jobs per 1,000 square feet of development. Even 400,000
square feet of this at the Papermate site, the amount the draft
LUCE might allow (as opposed to the 579,000 under Hines' plan),
could mean 1,600 more jobs. The 600,000 square feet of housing
that would be developed under the LUCE might typically generate
500 units of housing (or more or less depending on the configuration
of the units).
If you assume that on average each condo or apartment had 1.5
working people living in it (a typical figure) the development
under the LUCE standards would generate easily twice as many workers
than could live there -- so much for building housing in the industrial
areas of the city to help solve its jobs/housing imbalance.
This is not simply a matter of traffic, although fear of traffic
congestion will drive opposition to the project. In anticipation
of this opposition, Hines has put together a credible package
of traffic-reduction strategies for the project and is counting
the fact that the location of the property near the future Expo
station will reduce traffic.
But an out-of-whack jobs/housing balance creates other problems.
We in Santa Monica and the rest of the Westside are coping with
the housing shortfall created by the overbuilding of offices on
the Westside that started in the '60s with Century City, without
a comparable increase in housing. The biggest problem is not traffic,
but the cost of living here (which in turns increases traffic
because it creates long distance commuters).
A big part in the LUCE is to incentivize workforce housing, but
we have a workforce-housing problem because the prices of homes
that were once affordable to the middle and working-classes have
increased as executives and other high income employees and professionals
working in those offices want to live near work. The problem is
exacerbated because office developments create many more jobs
per square foot of land than the factories they take the place
When the Hines plan "floats up" to the Planning Commission
next month and then later to the City Council, the commission and
the council need to tell the developer and City staff to analyze,
on both financial and environmental grounds, alternatives that call
for at most 10 or 20 percent commercial development. As a carrot
to the developer, the City should allow all the "converted"
commercial square footage to be built as market-rate housing.
It is not clear now whether, when the economy recovers, the office
market or the residential market will recover first. Currently the
Los Angeles region has surpluses of both offices and homes, and
financing for any development is hard to come by.
But it's clear that because of its concentration of jobs -- second
only to downtown Los Angeles -- the Westside will always be a good
market for housing. Allowing Hines to develop considerable amounts
of market-rate housing, which Santa Monica needs along with affordable
and workforce housing, should provide a return that will be enough
to finance the street improvements we need for the site as well
as an appropriate amount of targeted workforce and affordable housing.
* * *
Last week I reported on various transitions affecting Santa Monica
notables, and this week there are two more transitions, one individual
and one corporate, worth mentioning.
An event happened back in the beginning of November, at the annual
convention of Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR), that perhaps
didn't receive as much notice as it deserved -- Dennis Zane, who
has been involved with SMRR from its very beginning, 32 years by
his count, stepped down from the organization's Steering Committee.
Mr. Zane has become increasingly involved in county-wide transportation
issues since being one of the leaders of the successful campaign
for Measure R last year, and he told me that he no longer had the
time to devote to SMRR business. He said that, except for consulting
work he performs for Santa Monica College, he no longer had a direct
role in Santa Monica politics.
It's hard to imagine Santa Monica politics without Mr. Zane. Somehow
I suspect he'll remain involved. But I certainly hope that he'll
be as effective getting subways built as he was with this agenda
The other transition is the demise of Santa Monica's remaining
homegrown bank, First Federal, which, having gambled disastrously
in the subprime market, was taken over last week by the FDIC and
Santa Monica not long ago had two banks -- First Fed and Santa
Monica Bank, which was acquired by US Bank. Both banks and the families
that owned them were important players in both the city's economic
development, through lending and investments, and its community
life, through their involvements with local charities and other
It's especially sad to think of the First Fed disaster when you
consider the lifetime of work and careful management that William
S. ("Bill") Mortensen, the long-time leader of the bank,
put into it -- and what he put into Santa Monica. Here is how the
bank quoted Mr. Mortensen in a press release the bank issued when
he retired as Chairman in 2002 after 45 years at the bank:
"'I am proud of the financial performance of our Company and
the important role that it plays in our community. I believe the
Company is well positioned for the future, and am confident that
the ongoing leadership of the management team will continue to serve
the interests of our stockholders, employees and community in the
Sadly, Mr. Mortensen's faith in his successors was misplaced.
To make a political comment, the fall of a bank like First Fed
reminds us that the world cannot be divided neatly into the myths
of the Left or the Right. Left-wingers should be reminded of how
important capitalist institutions like local banks are for the growth
of a community and its institutions. Right-wingers should be reminded
that it's not only government bureaucrats who make bad decisions.
* * *
Other than to cover an emergency, The Lookout
won't be publishing next week, and that goes for me, too. So I'll
take this opportunity to wish everyone reading this a Merry Christmas
(to be celebrated either religiously or secularly, as you choose)
and a Happy New Year.
J. Gruber is the author of Urban Worrier: Making Politics Personal,
available at Hennessey + Ingalls and Angel City books in Santa Monica,
at City Image Press, and on amazon.com.