(Cross posted from Bay City Urbanist. The following are my comments concerning the Bergamot Transit Center Village for the draft environmental impact report (EIR). Before the end of today's business day is the last chance to submit comments for the draft EIR. Messages should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org & Council@smgov.net)
Concerning the Bergamot Transit Village, I have some serious reservations about the project as currently proposed. I'll preface by saying I am not opposed to development, I am not opposed to increased density, and I am not opposed to the building height, I in fact welcome those things. I believe we need more housing for people, and that mixed use is a better way to build for a number of reasons, such as more walkable environments. I work near this site, and to be honest I might even want to live there someday considering it would put me within a block and a half walking distance of work, and with convenient access to the train and art galleries.
However what we don't need is so much more housing for cars. As proposed this project introduces more parking capacity than the Santa Monica Place mall, an invitation for a prolific increase in vehicle trips in an area already high in traffic volume. With other major developments in the area in the works, this problem will be compounded. Is this really transit oriented development, or simply transit adjacent development? I don't believe it is necessary to introduce 1,900 car spaces at the site of what will be a major public transit center and dedicated bike path.
There is a disturbing trend of development at transit centers along light rail across the country, where luxury accommodations and high parking capacity attract a demographic less likely to be regular transit users. One of the reasons for this, is that high parking capacity is expensive to produce, especially underground parking. While going with underground parking reduces the land use of the parking, a good thing, it also substantially increases the cost per space to build. If parking is not unbundled from living costs, these costs significantly drive up the cost of living, pricing out many who would be the most likely to use transit. Using figures quoted by Donald Shoup, author of the book The High Cost of Free Parking, which state that underground parking spaces typically cost at least $50,000 per parking space, this project proposes to build over $95 million dollars worth of parking. That is just on construction, not including the monthly costs of maintaining such garages. This should give a clearer picture of the cost burden of parking.
So if we are to create truly affordable housing, we must consider scaling back the parking, and or decoupling the cost of parking from the cost of units. Residents who wish to live car free should not be subsidizing the cost burdens of those who wish to drive, especially at a site so ideal for alternatives. To fit within the goals of the LUCE, of generating no new car trips at peak times, it is imperative we both scale back parking, and ensure the cost of what parking is offered, is recovered by user fees from drivers, and not all tenets. This will create a much stronger economic incentive for those willing to give up owning a car, to make their trips instead by foot, by bike, by train and bus. Car sharing should also be considered, such as that offered by LAX Car Share in Santa Monica, a company that would certainly want to set up locations at or near this site as they have done near other major transit centers in Los Angeles.
As a regular cyclist, I also urge that bike parking be well thought out, well designed, safe and secure, for both residents and guests. I also urge that a sufficient quantity of bike parking be provided, not only for current ridership rates, but in anticipation of the continuing growth of bike commuting in Santa Monica. With this development positioned so close to what will become a dedicated bike path along the Expo Line right of way, and with convenient connections to the rest of Santa Monica's bike route network, this site demands better facilities for bicycling.
I think many residents are rightfully concerned about this project becoming a traffic nightmare, generating thousands of new daily trips, but it doesn't have to be that way. This can be an opportunity to show how transit oriented development can grow a city without growing it's automobile traffic, that is if it is done right. Santa Monica, a city where sustainability is an issue of near universal concern among residents, and with a long term plan which calls for principles of smart growth, is an ideal place to demonstrate sustainable urban development. However I don't believe this project currently meets those ideals yet with the sheer volume of parking proposed. Let's build it, but let's build it right.