Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Agensys Development Agreement Passes Council Vote, No Bike Path, But Amendment Added to DA For 20K To Bicycling Improvements In Bergamot District

Santa Monica City Council MeetingLast night was the big council decision on Agensys development. I was at the City Council meeting, accompanied by some fellow steering committee members of Spoke and a few other cyclists in attendance who exercised their public speaking time to advocate for cycling. Kevin McKeown introduced a motion to add an additional $20,000 dollars to the development agreement, to be spent for cycling improvements in the district. This amount is not enough on it's own to do a whole lot, but since there is currently no budget at all for planning bike projects in the area, it means this money can seed the process that can secure additional grants for implementation once necessary studies are conducted. A Caltrans owned strip of land that could bridge Michigan East of the 10 to 20th St. and a conversion of 26th St. to allow for a bike route are possibilities being considered, but were previously without budgets.

It seemed fairly apparent that the decision was a forgone conclusion, that the agreement would pass, before anything was said. However Bobby Shriver made for a few fireworks by criticizing city staff process and expressing frustration that the city had not fully worked out just how valuable the land is they are dealing with. Agensys knows, because they are offering some kind of likely large but undisclosed amount to current lease holder Lionstone to take over the lease. However they are not obligated to inform the public what that offer is. Shriver pointed out theoretically that without the lease extension to Agensys, when Lionstone's lease runs out, the city could do what ever it wanted with the land, since the city is the land owner. This could be a park, it could even be a bicycle stadium as he pointed out jokingly, referring to the presence of cycling activists present.

That potential use is worth something, and he felt staff had not properly explored just how much that worth is or had properly prepped the council with enough information going into the negotiations. In regards to public benefits, I don't think bicycling was really a priority for Shriver, but he seemed most frustrated that there were not more job specific programs for locals in the package.

In the end it was all yay votes for passing the agreement and McKeown's motion to add funds for cycling, with Bobby Shriver as the one nay vote for the whole thing, for the reasons and frustration he had expressed. There is still one more vote on this issue at the end of the month, the final one, but my understanding is that it is mostly ceremonial, and that tonight's vote really sealed the deal.

This whole Agensys ordeal was very much a learning process for Santa Monica cycling activists, and while I had spoken at a few meeting before, this was really my first time getting seriously involved in a big political issue. While we did not get the desired bike path Barbara had proposed, we did make a lot of noise, and drew attention to cycling in the center stage, including coverage in the local press. It's quite likely had activists not gotten involved in the process, there would have been zero consideration and funds for bike route improvements out of this deal. Hence the importance of getting involved. I hate public speaking, but you don't get the change you want to see in the world by staying quiet.

I think perhaps the most important take away from this, more than the funding, is that we sent a clear message. The message that cyclists are not happy with the status quo, we demand change, and we are tired or waiting for it. That we we are becoming  more organized, and we intend to hold the City's feet to the fire over the principles of the LUCE planning document. Frank Gruber, who frequently writes on local politics and urban planning issues in Santa Monica, and author of the book Urban Worrier: Making Politics Personal, weighed in on the Agensys issue with his assessment that cyclists have really won something in the process, though we may have lost the dedicated bike path we had advocated for.

There is still much work to be done and future projects to tackle, but I want to personally thank everyone who got involved in this issue. Those who came and spoke, wrote letters, and helped out behind the scenes, and especially Barbara Fillet, who has been a champion for a vision of a complete Michigan Ave. bike route for many years.

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