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Slow-Growth Activists Girding for Fight Against "Plaza at Santa Monica" Downtown  

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

February 28, 2017 -- A Santa Monica slow-growth group is rallying members behind a proposal to create a sprawling urban park on 2.5 acres of City-owned real estate downtown that officials want developed as a 12-story mixed-use “plaza.”

The Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) says allowing construction of the 357,000-square-foot “Plaza at Santa Monica,” at 4th/5th and Arizona, would be an “irretrievable” loss to residents in the park-starved city.

“This land is so critical to the Downtown that we have to get it right,” the leaders of SMCLC said in a Monday posting at the group’s website, www.smclc.org.

One of the largest projects in the City’s jammed development pipeline, the “Plaza at Santa Monica,” which includes a 280-room hotel, is heading into environmental review.

It is a legally required process, but SMCLC and others in the slow-growth community worry that the review will be so narrow it misses options such as reserving the site for open space.

Legal precedent, however, requires that all Environmental Impact Review (EIR) studies include a “reasonable range of alternatives,” the group said, particularly those that result in “the greatest number of benefits and the least number of harms to Santa Monica’s residents and businesses.”

SMCLC is calling for study of alternatives that center on a public park that either includes 90 percent park area or an “Urban Plaza” alternative, including 75 percent park area.

As of now, the project has been scaled back from its original 420,000 square foot blueprint, as requested by the City Council ("'Plaza at Santa Monica' Project Scaled Back," February 8, 2017).

Heights range from nine feet to 129 feet. The project demolishes two banks, each of which is two stories, for a building comprised of a “series of interconnecting bars that step back from a large ground level public plaza,” according to the City’s description.

Each bar houses a different mix of uses, including 154,000-square-feet for a hotel; 106,000 square feet for “creative” work space and 52,000 square feet for a “Grand Plaza, 5th and Arizona Plaza, Pocket Parks, Second Level Park,” the City plans say.

Another 42,000 square feet would house neighborhood retailers and restaurants, and 40,300 square feet is earmarked for 48 units of affordable housing. The mix is four three-bedroom units, eight two-bedroom units, 20 one-bedroom units, 16 studios and ground floor lobbies.

In addition, 12,000 square feet would be available for “cultural uses,” at below market rents, and 1,700 square feet that include lockers and showers would be set aside for cyclists.

City officials say the development would help address a shortage of affordable housing in Santa Monica, while also offering some open space. But critics are worried that the project is too overwhelming for its location and that it does little to help address the city's lack of affordable housing or open space.

“Much of this ‘open space’ is not pedestrian friendly and serves as tenant improvements for the hotel and office tenants,” the SMCLC posting said.

Critics of the proposed plaza are especially nervous now that the City is finalizing its long-delayed development plan for downtown ("Stage Set for Final Battle Over Downtown Santa Monica Development Plan," February 23, 2017).

The plan could potentially help clear the way the plaza and two other large-scale –- and unusually tall -- projects in the heart of the city.

City planners are scheduled to release a final version of the Downtown Community Plan next month and the council is expected to vote on the plan later this spring.


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