February 4, 2019
Let’s just say it: The proposed development at 4th and Arizona is Hines ALL OVER AGAIN. This project is the largest development project in our Downtown in one of the most troubled traffic areas in our city. It’s way too big for the site, will have horrible traffic impacts and lacks the open space that our community considers to be the true “community benefit.”
Even worse, this behemoth would be built on PUBLICLY OWNED LAND!
This project has been highly controversial from the beginning due to its height and horizontal size (as big as a football field), its intense mix of uses (hotel, office, residential, retail) and its lack of significant open space. The public has rightly questioned whether such a project belongs on public land, the “community benefits” being offered, and the burdens that will overwhelm the city’s existing infrastructure. If built as proposed, it would be only about 20% smaller than Santa Monica Place (a 10-acre site) squeezed onto 2.5 acres.
Most of the hundreds of comments about the project given to the City urged that it be seriously downsized with much more open space, or that most of the site be a central public gathering place. SMCLC and Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow (SMa.r.t.) along with neighborhood groups submitted proposals for studying a reduced project with greater open space in the environmental impact report or EIR. SMa.r.t’s “reduced project” alternative retained 75% of the site as open space, with the remaining 25% built to a maximum height of 4 stories/ 50’/90,000 SF, and 3 levels of subterranean parking.
A core function of an EIR is to inform the public and the City of a reasonable range of alternatives that can remedy the serious environmental impacts of a project. The City Council needs to know viable alternatives before it can make a sound decision. Equally important, the public needs this information, so it can weigh it against what the Council approves to determine whether to support or challenge the decision made.
The draft EIR is now out, and the City is awaiting the public's comments before a final EIR is released. Once again, like Hines and its Papermate fiasco, this EIR did not properly study genuinely reduced project alternatives so that the City or the public could identify and support them. The entire EIR process has been manipulated so that the built-out alternatives are close relatives of the project, with about the same, not significantly reduced impacts. The project itself would generate 4,100 to 4,900 daily car trips; the several “large building” alternatives would add 2,800 to 5,800 daily trips.
These crippling traffic impacts cannot be mitigated according to the EIR. And while the EIR did consider two “public park” scenarios, it dismisses them as not meeting sufficient Downtown Community Plan objectives.
How did this happen? At its project “float up” hearing, the City Council told the developer to cut the 200,000 SF of office use by 100,000 SF but then gave it carte blanche as to what uses to replace it with (hotel, residential, retail). So the basic box of the project remained fixed, in footprint, size, orientation, and design. This direction from Council appears to have pre-determined the project well before an EIR was even done.
This, of course, defeats the whole purpose of an EIR in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). SMCLC and SMa.r.t. call for a revised and recirculated EIR that studies real reduced project alternatives of significantly reduced size and impacts to the project, including the one SMa.r.t. submitted for that purpose.
Click here for SMCLC and SMa.r.t.’s comment letter identifying the key deficiencies in the draft EIR and asking that it be redone and re-circulated.
This is currently the most important project in our Downtown. Projects on public land necessitate the fullest environmental analysis as to significant impacts for the project as well as reasonable alternatives that would lessen them. We are entitled to accurate, complete, and unbiased information to facilitate public involvement and ultimately for a public vote. The City has already set that precedent for a public vote on the airport land’s uses – land that residents own. We expect no less here.
Stay tuned, and we’ll update you on our next steps.