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The Expo Line Extension, A Train In Vain?

Michelle Bergmann |
April 30, 2014 | 12:58 p.m. PDT

Executive Producer

(via Wikimedia)
(via Wikimedia)
Two women wearing visors speed walk along the sidewalk in conversation. They pass cottage homes with manicured lawns and rose bushes. Aside from the distant sound of birds and lawn sprinklers, it’s a quiet morning in Westwood. But all that could change and that is what these residents fear. It’s a fear that new people, building developments and traffic could disrupt a peaceful morning.

“We want to keep the integrity of the single-family homes, ” says Terry Tippit.

Tippit is a longtime resident of Westwood and member of the Westwood Homeowners Association. Although Tippit and some of her neighbors, fought the Expo Line stop in her neighborhood for years, she has come to terms with the fact that approximately a year and a half from now the light rail will stop every fifteen minutes, blocks away from her home. She also worries her neighborhood can’t properly accommodate the incoming apartment buildings.

At the intersection at Sepulveda and Pico, developer Casden will build mixed unit buildings made up of 599 apartments with up to 15,000 square feet of neighborhood retail. The development will bring an estimated extra 3,000 car rides per day.

“Where are all those cars going to go?!,”asks Tippit.

The development is one of several that will be built at upcoming transit stops. From Culver City to Santa Monica, three new stops out of seven will bring some of the biggest developments the Westside has ever seen bringing thousands of extra car trips per day. All of these have been approved by Santa Monica and Los Angeles within the last year.

Westsiders already suffer from traffic gridlock. The proposed developments raise an understandable worry: more traffic. There is a concern that the introduction of the Expo Line could defeat its very purpose of easing commuting woes.

“The purpose of smart growth is to end our being choked in gridlock, not to worsen it,” said Mike Bonin, councilman to the 11th district when speaking about smart developments around the Expo Line stops.

On the line at Olympic and 26th, west of Westwood, sits Bergamot station. Bergamot, established in 1996, is a world destination for art collectors. It’s modern buildings that look similar to airport hangers are home to distinct art galleries.

But in the same area big developer Hines plans to build the Bergamot Transit village. The mixed-use project, which would prove to be one of the biggest developments in Santa Monica, will transform seven acres into 427 apartments, about 375,000 feet of office use space, 16,000 feet of restaurants and 14,000 feet of retail. Additionally, Hines will be investing 32 million into community benefits like affordable housing and bike sharing lanes.

Conway Bongo, Bergamot Station artist and resident, says it’s not the train that is the problem; it’s the incoming transit village that will change the art hub and displace some galleries.

“It’s kind of atrocious, something like Bergamot Station that’s been here for so long, and getting rid of it and the artist’s integrity that keeps this place… this place… I find it horrifying,” said Bongo.

Bongo isn’t the only Santa Monica resident opposed to the station. So are 13,400 others.  With the Hines development bringing in an extra 7,000 car rides per day, some Santa Monica residents worry the project will make their city unlivable. So they sent a message to Santa Monica City that could over turn the immense project.

After Santa Monica approved the Bergamot Transit Village by a 4-3 vote on February 4th, several neighborhood coalitions (Santa Monica for Renters Rights, Santa Monica for a Livable City, Mid-City Neighbors among others) launched a referendum campaign and went on to collect 6,000 signatures to veto the vote.

On March 11th, they more than doubled that goal required to stop the development or put it up for a general citywide vote.

“We have been told that our community is split over the issues of growth and densification in Santa Monica. It is clear that the only split that exists is the split between the four pro-growth city council members and the real residents of Santa Monica,” said Armen Melkonians, founder of Residocracy.org, in a statement.

Santa Monica City Councilman Kevin McKeown was one of the three votes against the project. He says it overreaches.

 “It doesn’t offer us affordable housing and open space for parkland,” said McKeown.

But some city developers insist that these mixed-use developments will help reduce traffic by providing housing for those who work in Santa Monica but commute. Santa Monica Planning Developer, David Martin, says that regardless of what SM does with development, traffic will likely get worse due to the city’s popularity.

 “What we have to do is always be looking at ways to mitigate traffic,” said Martin.

For now, the development of the Bergamot Station Transit Village is at a stand still until the next moves are determined. This could include proposing a different development or putting it to a general vote.

Some argue that developments are a part of a city’s healthy growth. History has shown that introducing new transportation causes natural changes to cities, making them more diversified and accessible to the public. It also attracts developers, as businesses and residential units close the stops are highly valued.

“In a way, they (expo stations) become the best locations to do real estate development in the city… and although it might be disruptive from a macro level that’s just kind of how cities work”, said Taylor Mammen, a real estate developer consultant and Westwood resident. “I think in order to maximize the investment LA is making, it is critical that there be plenty of people who can use it,” continued Mammen.

Westwood residents will be able to access downtown or the beach in 20 minutes or less, and for Los Angeles, that convenience is hard to fathom. It’s no surprise that there are many who still support the train, regardless of developments.

“I think it’s great…I’m all for it! I think it will relieve traffic, if people are going to live here they will live here because of the train,” said John Ribarich, Westwood resident.

Construction on most of the approved projects have either started or will start within next six months. Sitting in the pipeline are about 10 new mixed-use projects that will go to the Santa Monica planning commission.

“No other single change will affect Santa Monica more, for better or for worse, than the light rail,” said McKeown.

Reach Staff Reporter Michelle Bergmann here



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