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Commission Approves Medical Expansion on Santa Monica Boulevard

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

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

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

October 23, 2015 -- After more than two hours of testimony, discussion and talk about traffic philosophy, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to allow the owner of a four-story building on Santa Monica Boulevard to expand medical office use to the entire structure, minus a small portion where a cafe will be inserted.

The building off 20th Street mostly features non-medical office space despite being in a medical district that includes Saint John’s Hospital across the street.

A 1989 development agreement with the City combined with a permit modification in 1993 limited medical office use to less than half the 42,000-square-foot building.

Although planning staff said the transformation would not generate any significant traffic increase, several commissioners were skeptical. This led to a lengthy discussion on how traffic estimates are created and the technicalities involved.

“Traffic modeling is not an exact science,” planning staff member Rachel Kwok told the commission. “We do the best we can with the numbers that we have. A lot of it is part science, part art.”

Planning Commission Chair Richard McKinnon said medical facilities usually increase traffic because few people will walk to them. But he said this could be a different situation.

“Putting this across the campus from Saint John’s and across from other existing medical uses makes a great deal of sense,” McKinnon said. “It’s the most likely chance we have of cutting the driving and the movement, and getting people to walk.”

The cafe will occupy 999 square feet on the ground floor with a 195-square-foot outdoor seating area.

Only two members of the public addressed the commission.

Local peace activist Jerry Rubin said he liked the project. Andrew Hoyer, president of the local neighborhood association, opposed it on several grounds, including that it would lead to more parking on the street in the area.

Attorney David Rand, representing the property owner Goldstein Planting Investments, said he was surprised Hoyer opposed the project because it was an adaptive reuse rather than a proposal for a new building.

Rand said when he has clients proposing new construction, he hears from Rand and his allies saying adaptive reuse is the best policy.

“I’m genuinely disappointed to hear Mr. Hoyer’s comments tonight,” Rand said. “I thought this was my one shot to be on the same page with him.”

Rand told the commission early in the meeting that he couldn’t imagine it not granting his client’s request.

“If you can’t let an existing building in the heart of the city’s medical district to have a permitted medical use, I’m not sure where you go from here as a city from a planning and zoning standpoint,” Rand said.

Just prior to the vote, Commissioner Greda Newbold spoke about the luxury Santa Monica residents have of living near medical facilities.

“I know medical creates a lot of traffic and a lot of issues for people, but if you’ve ever had a medical problem, or your [family] has, you know we’re really lucky to have these services in Santa Monica,” she said. “We shouldn’t lose sight of that.”

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