A major commercial and housing center, proposed for a future rail transit station in Santa Monica, was killed last night by the Santa Monica City Council. The Council had previously approved the project by one vote, but Councilmember Gleam Davis switched her vote to oppose.
Affluent residents of the seaside town (my former home for eight years) organized a citizens petition to stop the development, getting more than ten percent of the registered voters to sign.Even without this vote, the citizen drive was likely to be successful, and if not, the homeowners group had hired attorneys to litigate the project to death. But the city council vote is surely disappointing to those who would like to see Santa Monica, and greater Los Angeles, channel growth around the rail network. Santa Monica residents are benefiting from a multi-billion dollar rail investment but refuse to allow new residents and workers to take advantage of that system.
The fight is another example of how wealthy and sophisticated homeowner groups can prevent these sensible projects. They hired attorneys, formulated political and legal strategies to oppose the project, and enlisted rival businesses and wealthy residents to fund a petition drive.
What’s next? The developers will go back to the drawing board, reoccupy the site, or build according to the limited existing zoning. But far worse is the potential chilling effect this could have on development opportunities around rail transit throughout the region. Why would developers want to gamble their money on transit-oriented projects with this much uncertainty and neighbor opposition? The result will be more sprawl and traffic as development is pushed out to the hinterlands.
It all reminds me of this scene from The Big Lebowski (just substitute Santa Monica for Malibu):