Agensys is a highly-esteemed biotech firm doing cutting-edge research to cure cancer that offers high-paying jobs in a clean manufacturing environment. The company is now housed in several Santa Monica buildings and it hopes to consolidate all operations by constructing a 153,000-square-foot building at the 4-acre 1800 Stewart Street site, right next to the future Bergamot rail station, on city-owned land, which it desires to lease for 50 years. It is just the kind of company the city wants within its borders, and other cities would throw out the welcome mat for such a plum. But to win permission to build in Santa Monica, it must meet design guidelines and offer community benefits.
Agensys had been told by the planning commission that one public benefit very much desired by the community is a bike path on its southern border, which would connect Michigan Ave., to Stewart St. and Exposition Blvd. Creating this link would open up a whole new route for bicyclists, via Michigan Avenue, from West Los Angeles and the eastern part of Santa Monica directly to the beach, civic center and Santa Monica High School (with one detour around Crossroads School, to be fixed in the future). This path would provide a link through the 38-acre block of land containing Bergamot, the city yards and Stewart Park, the largest un-crossable collection of parcels in Santa Monica after the airport. It would provide a much-needed east-west bike route between Broadway and Pearl. The people at Agensys have not wanted to revise their designs to include a bike path, which they reiterated at the council meeting on April 27. While some Council members argued for the bike path, others seemed hesitant, perhaps star-struck by a desirable employer like Agensys.
At a June 1 meeting for residents living nearby the proposed Agensys project, Dale Goldsmith, the Agensys lawyer, explained how staff had wanted Agensys to provide a pedestrian walkway and they had done so. End of story. His position was that the future (2015 at the earliest) Expo bike path should provide all the bicycle facilities necessary for this 38 acre area. Or a bicyclist could dismount and walk through the Agensys pedestrian path they planned to provide.
Agensys developers oppose building vital Bergamot bike path
Those options are inconvenient, potentially hazardous and will do little to help cycling become an easy choice for local trips, as LUCE calls for. A bike path from Stewart Street to Michigan is the missing link for a direct, convenient bicycle connection between Bergamot Station and surrounding communities with Santa Monica High School, the Civic Center and the beach. Architects have suggested it is possible to do creative things with building design to make room for the bike path: cut out a notch, place the mass elsewhere or combine a sliver of city yard land with this parcel. The Agensys folks felt they had done enough, and they threatened to pull out of the city completely if they had to provide more benefits.
I think their confidence and unwillingness to do more has to do with the public fear of cancer and the desire to accommodate a prestigious company looking for a cure.
When I discovered my breast cancer in 2003, it was a shock that transformed my life. I benefited from an innovative cancer therapy and I changed my lifestyle to help prevent a recurrence, successfully so far. One of the most important changes I made was to become more physically active. I now bicycle for nearly all my local trips, which integrates regular exercise into my daily life. Cycling can improve overall health and research shows it can help reduce cancer risk as well.
So it frustrates me when the good scientists at Agensys threaten they can’t accommodate a bike path on their southern border because it will compromise their cancer research. Contributing a 14-foot corridor for this bike path would provide a vital connection for implementing the active transportation network we need to live healthy lives, and cut down on the car trips the neighbors so fear. With all due respect to Agensys’ important work, preventing cancer is better than curing cancer!
Bicycling just half an hour a day reduces risk of cancer by 34 percent according to a new Swedish report published in the British Journal of Cancer. The study, which looked at more than 40,000 Scandinavian men ages 45-79, found a direct relationship between the amount of time men spent cycling and the risk of being diagnosed with cancer and their cancer recovery rate.
The constrained Santa Monica City Yards is not able to remove any buildings to create a bike path at this time. But there is a little strip of land BEHIND the city yard buildings that appears available. Perhaps it can be combined with some Agensys land to create the bike path. That way, Agensys can take pride in both helping prevent cancer and helping to cure it.
And with a 50-year lease, it is now or practically never. There is another public meeting about this project on Wednesday, June 9 at 7:00 pm in Virginia Park, this one hosted by the city, so mercifully, more urban designers and bicyclists will show up and make their wishes known.