A rendering of Bergamot Station Arts Center as envisioned by Worthe Real Estate
A rendering of Bergamot Station Arts Center as envisioned by Worthe Real Estate

Two days after the City Council voted to move forward with plans to revitalize and redevelop Bergamot Station Arts Center, local anti-development group, Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC), issued a statement, calling the decision an “important win.”

Wait, what? SMCLC, which has opposed almost every major project built in the bayside city since 2005, called the City approving plans to redevelop Bergamot Station a victory?

From the press release:  “Importantly, the Council did not approve the ‘preferred concepts’ proposed by the City’s staff. These so-called ‘guiding principles’ called for too much new development, denigrated the anchor role of art galleries and envisioned instead a cultural, retail and office mall.” [Note: According to the press release, SMCLC founder Diana Gordon is an artist represented at Bergamot]

While it is hyperbolic to call any of the three proposals considered by the City Council a “mall,” it is true that the Council backed Worthe Real Estate’s proposal over the staff-recommended 26Street Partners TOD proposal, in part because Worthe’s proposal was the least impactful to the existing art galleries. The Council also agreed that an oversight committee made up of interested parties should help direct the planning of the final project.

Then the press release goes on to say, the Council “agreed with us that the entire process needed to be restarted.” Wait, what?! SMCLC might have been watching a different meeting than we were, since we saw the Council vote 5-to-1 to MOVE FORWARD, albeit with a few stipulations.

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In an email to Santa Monica Next Thursday, Councilmember Kevin McKeown clarified, “We did not go all the way back to the beginning, acceding to the request from some that we rewrite and reissue the RFP. That would have been an absolute ‘restart.'”

At the meeting, the Council certainly did not agree “that the entire process needed to be restarted.” Speaking to an opponent of the project at the meeting, McKeown said restarting the RFP process “would be a multi-year delay in the process.”

[Note: An RFP, or request for proposal, is the lengthy process during which the City advertises a particular project to the public and companies compete over the contract.]

And Councilmember Ted Winterer said, “I guess I don’t really see the necessity of throwing the baby out with the bathwater and redoing the RFP. That’s a very time-consuming process. We may lose some of these applicants in the process… We are a long way from anyone presenting what they consider to be a finished project.”

During an exchange with the Council, gallery owner Bill Turner, who has come out against the redevelopment said, “A revision for us doesn’t mean going back to square one. It means maybe amending the process in a way that does give some guidance when there are conflicting priorities.”

Responding to Turner’s concerns, Winterer said, “If we can find a way to preserve the gallery space and work around the concerns of the parking and the impacts of construction, shouldn’t we move forward in the interest of addressing some of the concerns we heard about the aging infrastructure, the lack of security lighting in the evening, parking challenges you’re going to face when the train opens, the inadequate restrooms?”

And move forward they did. You can see the entire exchange with Turner, which starts a little after the two-hour mark, in this video.