SM Planning Commission Hears Arguments for and Against Agensys Bike Path

Screen_shot_2010_08_31_at_10.14.01_PM.pngMap by Barbara Fillet showing proposed Agensys route in blue and alternatives in other colors.

A heated debate has broken out in Santa Monica casting cyclists and the City Council against a proposed research complex by Agensys, a biomedical engineering company.  According to Santa Monica’s much ballyhooed Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) to their Master Plan the site should have a bike path running through the development.  According to Agensys, the proposed path is a safety hazard.  The two sides will face off at a Planning Commission meeting tonight at 7:00 P.M. in Santa Monica City Council Chambers, SM Civic Center on Main Street.

Cyclists, led by Santa Monica Spokes and Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition leaders, are pointing to the opportunity to provide easy connectivity to a future bike route on Michigan Avenue, Santa Monica High School and Santa Monica College.  They argue the route would cost little, especially with a pedestrian path already planned, and would help the site fulfill the city’s commitment to better cycling outlined in the LUCE. Those really interested in getting into the details of the site and proposals should read Barbara Fillet’s detailed analysis at SM Spokes.

Cyclists have some powerful allies, including Council Member Kevin McKeon who basically takes the cyclists side in the debate in the Santa Monica Mirror:

“We are negotiating the first development agreement since the Council’s unanimous adoption of a new Land Use and Circulation Element, which promised our residents increased bicycle access,” McKeown said in an email. “Sacrificing our encouragement of healthy active transportation so quickly would be an immediate mistake and a disappointing precedent.”

For it’s part, Agensys is doing more for the community than just providing a good job base.  The company seems concerned about pedestrian access and has promised wider sidewalks, a cafe, and a walking path through the site.  In addition, they vowed to find ways to encourage employees to find ways to work besides the car, despite the two-story garage attached to the site.  With the Bergamont Station for the future Expo Line a stone’s throw away, that shouldn’t be too hard.

But their excuse for not adding a bike path to the pedestrian path already planned lies in concerns about safety and liability if they built a sub-par bicycle path.  Gary Kavanagh, one of the founders of SM Spokes and the writer of Gary Rides Bikes, is skeptical reporting a second-hand story that the city volunteered to accept the liability and Agensys still declined.  Kavanagh and I must be speaking to the same little birdies, because I’ve heard the same story.

While the cyclists have the support of several City Councilmen, Agensys has the support of angry columnist Bill Bauer at the Santa Monica Daily Press who slanders the cyclists, especially Fillet, for trying to tell Agensys what it can and can’t do on private land.  That governments regularly tell people and businesses what they can do on land they lease from the city, completely ignoring how common it is for landlords to control the improvements made by their tenants.

One thing’s for sure, nobody wants to see Agensys move, as Bauer claims they might but Agensys has not, so something has to be worked out.  Will Agensys really take on the City Council over a bike path?  Will the City Council hold a major employers feet to the fire over a bike path?  The answer to that question may not come tonight, but wait a couple of weeks until the full City Council debates the issue at their September 14th meeting.

  • I think I understand why Agensys is so anti-bike lane: if people are healthy from riding bikes, why would we need their biomedical engineering?

    It makes so much sense now.

  • It’s not really a slander of Filet . . . I mean it’s borderline, but it’s not slander. Bikeside posted on the issue and included it in our newsletter . . .

  • Joel

    Of there is space for a bike lane in Agensys’ design, then the issue must be liability. I can’t imagine what else it would be about. Notwithstanding the “little birdies” the author has heard from, I would guess Agensys is wanting the City to assume liability for the bike path.

  • Cory

    An easement through the property could take care of the liability issue, provided the City is willing to accept the liability.

  • I can’t give confirmation, but I heard from someone very close to the matter that the city offered an easement, and would reduce rent and assume liability for space provided a bike route, and the answer was still no to bikes.

  • Maybe we’re talking to the same people? I just couldn’t get anyone to go on record.

  • LOL to liability.

    Prokop vs City of Los Angeles. Loogidup!

    The TL;DR version is this: off-street bike paths are a ride-at-your-own-risk facility. Prokop got in a crash due to a torn up bike path in L.A. Sued. The case went to the California Supreme Court, and the ruling was that the City bore no responsibility because the guy wasn’t riding on a “street”.

    Maybe Agensys wants to do special events that would close the courtyard … but so what? If this critical to their business plan?

    It sounds like a whiny bunch of middle class, suburban, engineers and money men sticking their noses in the air – worried that someone poor might have the right to access your “secure compound”?

  • Dave

    Why do the rail tracks go right over Track 16 in that picture?

  • Asuka Hisa

    SM bike activists have made brilliant arguments tonight! It would be so regressive not to have a bike path after all of the intelligent, inspiring, and powerful words spoken to the Planning Commission in the presence of Agensys. Their resistance to the idea is baffling and full of fear.

    @Dave: Track 16 wil be no longer when the light rail transit station comes in.

  • ubrayj02

    Anybody record the proceedings? Any way to see this stuff online?

  • All planning commission and council meetings are broadcast on local access cable in Santa Monica, and I think some are put online but not all.

    The meeting went until Midnight and I was too burnt out to write a full post after, so probably this evening I’ll get something up with my notes.

    It seems unlikely we are going to get our goal of a bike path through development, but in response to the strong bike presence planning commissioned motioned to recommend to council (next meeting in the process) that they dedicate the $70,000 already agreed upon as part of the DA, to be devoted to bike and ped connectivity improvements to the Bergamot district.

  • No offense, but if you’re getting something that’s already in the Developer Agreement, then they’re not giving you anything right?

  • It’s not clear if that’s all we’re getting until it goes to council and what ever continued negotiation with City Manager. Ted Winterer spoke strongly to the effect of Agenesys if not providing a bike path, should offer something to cycling, and wanted additional fund allocation.

    As for the DA funds, how it would be spent was previously ambiguous and thought of as money for general improvements when Expo comes. However multiple commissioners called to have that funding go to bike improvements in the district right away, paint in the street, not some future thing, and count on future DA’s that will be happening between now and expo to work out station improvements. These notes were included in final motion.

    I think our biggest lesson in this whole thing is we need to jump into these developer proposals much earlier. Barbara had been there talking about bikes in earlier stages, but that was before we were really coordinated as a group.

    At this point the project is very close to deadline for approval, and council is under enormous pressure to pass the project, which in fairness offers numerous community benefits that were non existent in their original plans for the site.

    It also became apparent they didn’t think through too much about employees biking to work, as a few commissioners started quizzing them about bike parking plans, which they obviously only half assed thought out, and commission called for rethinking their plans for on site secure bike parking.

    I’ll write some more about it later.

  • Man, it’s too bad SMCM went the way of the dodo.

    The Monkey Wrench Gang would start by pulling stakes.

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