Saturday, October 11, 2008

Reason #5. This measure, will effect the ability to redevelop abandoned industrial sites in the city particularly along Olympic Avenue

Santa Monica has 400-acres of industrial land, some of it with vacant and rusting buildings occupying its terrain. The largest chunks of that land are along Olympic, a verdant, yet otherwise, pedestrian unfriendly thoroughfare, where among other things a “Paper Mate” factory once operated. Opened in 1958, it housed the company’s large stationery products operation where they made, among other things, ball-point pens, and those ubiquitous, “Flairs.”* At its heyday, its work force numbered more than 1,000, but at its closing in 2005, that number had dwindled to 214. The factory was the last significant remnant of our “beach town’s" industrial past (of the type which produced a utilitarian object), which also included Louver Drapes and Merle Norman cosmetics (and of course, the big kahuna, Douglas Aircraft, which I’ve written about in a previous post).

So what should happen to that land along Olympic? Well, for a city that prides itself on sustainability, nothing short of a street that accommodates pedestrians and cyclists as well as cars would seem appropriate. And if you look at LUCE, the land use component of the City’s new General Plan,, developed after a long, arduous and highly transparent process, and turn to pages 40-50, you’ll see a very thoughtful set of policies and strategies on everything from the mixing of uses, to the “graining” of the street grid (more on that below) as well as to the character of the streets and public realm. And while LUCE’s vision for Olympic doesn’t sound very beachy, heck, this area isn’t on the beach, and never was part of that scene.

Now some of the proponents of RIFT argue that with amount of existing commercial space already in the area, and the credit that RIFT provides for re-use there should be no problem providing enough local serving retail and services on the ground floor of residential uses. Well first of all, that assumes that a residential - only district (with local serving retail) is smart policy on a site within walking distance of a new light rail stop. As I’ve argued earlier, I don’t agree. Nor do I think it is smart from a market perspective to have so much of one use (housing) on any one site (too many eggs in one basket) and that fact alone will discourage most developers capable of taking on such a redevelopment.

But here’s the other rub even if a housing only policy was thought to be wise, RIFT won’t even allow for significant local serving retail unless the housing that is built is exclusively “affordable.” Look at what Proposition T says about the re-use of commercial space:

Projects that are subject to the limit but replace or remodel existing buildings could receive a “credit” for some or all of the existing building’s floor area. This credit would reflect the fact that the site already generates traffic. Availability of this credit would depend upon a comparison of traffic to be generated by the new building and traffic generated by the existing building. The measure establishes the formula for comparison.

So the details are in the formula, eh?

“Using the most recently available trip generation methodology and data from the Institute of Traffic Engineers (ITE)…” [So right there we start off with a whopping problem. As we’ve seen previously, in Reason #10, this methodology has been the subject of serious, if not fatal, critiques], “or a comparable source used by jurisdictions of comparable size to Santa Monica…” [I can just hear that debate now,] “…the city shall ascertain the number of vehicle trips per week (on a gross basis without adjustments for trip generation) [So right there, we establish that such things as Transportation Demand Management techniques, or credits for mixing uses, etc. will not be counted – sort of the opposite of an incentive]…associated with (a) the buildings to be remodeled or replaced (based on the size, design and primary use of the building for the past two years), and (b) the new building (based on the approved size, design and all conditions of approval affecting the use of the building). Each number shall be divided by the square footage of the building to ascertain for the purposes of this policy only, the projected trips per square foot for each building”

For more go to:

In other words, for the purposes of this ordinance, a factory of 2,000,000 square feet that once employed over 1,000 people, but that has sat vacant for 3 years is considered to have never existed! If by some bizarre set of occurances, the owners wanted to start making things there again, say films or video games or some other creative activity, they’d have to go through this ITE formula to see how much credit they could secure, which is probably about 12% of what’s there now. And as I said earlier, all this is assuming that this land should be utilized exclusively for housing. But why does that make any sense when it is only blocks from a transit stop? Why shouldn’t the city benefit from the asset by achieving the increased tax revenue that the commercial uses would provide, even while providing ample space for affordable, work-force and market rate housing. Why shouldn’t someone be able to walk to work? For example, LUCE spells out a vision for the Paper Mate site and surrounding area that reads in part:

Creative arts uses and spaces for artists to work shall be preserved and enhanced. This includes, but is not limited to, the development or adaptive reuse of small, flexible and affordable performance venues and visual arts spaces.

Sounds like a good idea, no? But as we’ve seen, the adaptive re-use of existing spaces, would count as new space, which will compete against medical office, and fast food restaurants.

Further to the east in what is now, essentially a set a distribution centers, composed of warehouse spaces and small manufacturing spaces:

The Mixed Use Creative District is envisioned as a mixed use commercial / residential neighborhood where opportunities for creative arts jobs are balanced with a variety of market and affordable housing and neighborhood serving retail and services. These uses will provide support for the Exposition light rail line by bringing jobs and housing closer to high-frequency transit service. [Note that] Land intensive uses, such as automobile dealerships and their associated operations, are not appropriate for the District.

Note that LUCE makes a distinction between commercial uses, because different uses are, well different, something that RIFT does not.

Part of the neighborhood vision is a new retail “Main Street” along the western end of Nebraska Avenue and northward along Stanford Street. This area should contain local serving retail and services on the ground floor of mixed use buildings or in stand-alone retail buildings.

Oh my God, stand alone retail!!! But read the rest of the document to discover that such retail will be of the urban type. So let’s say a Target store, or its ilk (one that doesn’t sell merchandise produced by abused or underpaid workers) were to come into the mix (which we’ve seen from examples throughout the nation can fit quite comfortably in an urban environment)? Think of the traffic that would generate. To which I would ask, how much traffic currently originates in Santa Monica and leaves in order to find such services? If you’re a Santa Monican, where do you go now to get to a store like that?

One of the things the pro-RIFTers, like the Friends of Sunset Park, complain about is a proposed 200,000 additional sq ft of commercial/office proposed for the area claiming 2,000 additional daily car trips through Pico neighborhood and Sunset Park. Well, 200,000 square feet of office may sound like a lot, but it's chump change compared to what’s at the old factory. What device will be used to clean that old factory site up? Who will pay to haul that scrap metal away? In addition, 2,000 car trips a day, is a ridiculous, suburban one. Given that this is near the future expo line, and given various TDMs, I can easily imagine, that number being halved, (without breaking a sweat).** My gosh, how did the workers at Paper Mate get to work? With creativity, I can see the overall number of car trips to be kept at near zero. You don't believe me...Stanford University was able to add 2,000,000 sf of R&D, and office space without adding one car trip!!!

But let’s face it, if the 200,000 squre feet of space that were added were anything like the Water Gardens site immediately adjacent to the west, that would be a crime. That project, a stand-alone single-use, office park, with no internal street grid, is the very epitome of what NOT to do.

And look what LUCE has to say in that area:

Affordable and workforce housing are highly desirable in this area. …Clear edges are envisioned for the northeast portion of the district to assure an appropriate interface with the adjacent existing residential neighborhood.

Key to the success of this neighborhood will be the creation of new streets to provide ninterconnectivity with the existing grid. The grid will connect to the new street system in the Bergamot Transit Village District and streets such as Stanford Street, Berkeley and Franklin Street should extend to the south and intersect with Olympic Boulevard….The combination of increased connectivity and local-serving retail and offices within walking or biking distance will tie into an overall trip reduction strategy for the neighborhood.
Earlier, I wrote of the LUCE’s strategy for the graining of the streets. One of the big advantages for the redevelopment of these lands as as an urbane, mixed use redevelopment is that it allows for a fine grained street grid to replace what is now a very coarse grained network of thoroughfares. This finer grain, allows multiple routes to any destination thus relieving the burden on any one street, like Cloverfield. It also allows narrower, more pedestrian friendly streets. Moreover, a fine grain is more pedestrian friendly (a number of studies have proven a link between small block size (fine grain) and "walkability," and allow for a much easier way to distribute a hierarchy of uses. This is a key element in the traffic reduction strategy, but it won’t happen without such a redevelopment, and RIFT will likely set that back decades. Proposition T is really bad policy.

* Paper Mate was owned by Gillette until its sale in 2001. If for some reason you’re interested in reading more about the Paper Mate factory (though not much more) see Gordon McKibben, Cutting Edge: Gillette's Journey to Global Leadership, Harvard Business Press, 1998.

** A detailed analysis of RIFT versus the status quo and LUCE can be found at:

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