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Council Approves Agensys Deal, Mayor Objects  

By Jonathan Friedman
Lookout Staff

September 20, 2010 -- The City Council last Tuesday voted 5-1 to support a development agreement with a cancer drug research and development company. The agreement with Agensys Inc. will allow the company to centralize its five Santa Monica facilities (three existing and two planned) into one 153,000-square-foot building on a City-owned Stewart Street property near Olympic Boulevard and Bergamot Station, where the Expo Light Rail Station will be located.

Mayor Bobby Shriver cast the lone dissenting vote. He said the City was not getting a good enough deal, including Agensys’ refusal to guarantee it will hire Santa Monica residents. Bicycle advocates were also upset because the project does not include a bike path through the property. The company agreed to put money toward bicycle infrastructure improvements.

“I think this is a real asset to our community to bring a business like this (and) give them not only the opportunity to remain in the community, but to grow within the community,” Council member Gleam Davis said.

She continued, “I think that one of the things that has helped this community get through these difficult economic times is the fact that we have a diversified economy. And one of the things we don’t have a lot of in Santa Monica … is biotech industry.”

Since this is a development agreement, Agensys must provide “public benefits” to the City. Among the benefits in the agreement are a pedestrian path, pedestrian café, 5,100-square-foot public open space, widened sidewalk along Stewart Street, traffic demand management program, sculpture garden, a job fair and an internship program.

Agensys and City officials said the desired bike path was not possible. The company will put up more than $70,000 for bicycle infrastructure improvements at Bergamot Station and another $20,000 for analysis and possible implementation of bike lanes or paths near the project site. Council member Kevin McKeown, a vocal bicycle advocate, said this was a good compromise. Others disagreed.

“With this Agensys process, we are learning about social justice denied,” said Barbara Filet of the bicycle advocacy group Santa Monica Spoke. “It is the tyranny of the auto-driving majority over the bicycle minority. The liability and safety concerns are a smokescreen.”

The project site is currently under lease by Lionstone Group, a real estate investment firm. Agensys will pay an undisclosed sum to Lionstone to take over the lease. Shriver said the City is giving Agensys a financial benefit by allowing the company to take over the lease at a market rate because the property could instead be used for a municipal purpose once the lease expires with Lionstone.

Shriver said the City was not getting a good enough deal in return. He was also bothered that Agensys officials several times mentioned how they are working to find cancer cures when talking about the project. He called this “cancer-washing.”

“With all due respect to that laudable goal, I don’t think it’s fair to come to your partner in the deal, which is what we are since we own the land, and say, ‘Because we’re curing cancer and you’re not, you should give us all the money,’ which is effectively what is being said to us,” Shriver said.

He also blasted the fact that although Agensys will have a job fair, it will not guarantee the hiring of local employees. Agensys attorney Dale Goldsmith said the company will make an effort to hire locals, but he said a guarantee could not be made since most of the jobs are highly technical, including those involving janitorial work because of the requirements involved in the biotech field.

Several council members agreed with Goldsmith on this issue, and Council member Richard Bloom noted that Agensys already has many employees who are Santa Monica residents. Council member Bob Holbrook sided with Shriver.

“Frankly, I’m disappointed that you couldn’t reserve one job … promise one job for a Santa Monica person,” he said.

The council must approve the agreement on a second reading at its meeting on Sept. 27. The lease must also be finalized. Agensys officials said they expect the project will be completed by the end of 2012.

 

I think that one of the things that has helped this community get through these difficult economic times is the fact that we have a diversified economy. And one of the things we dont have a lot of in Santa Monica is biotech industry.
   Gleam Davis, Council    member

“With all due respect to that laudable goal, I don’t think it’s fair to come to your partner in the deal, which is what we are since we own the land, and say, ‘Because we’re curing cancer and you’re not, you should give us all the money,’ which is effectively what is being said to us,”
    Mayor Bobby Shriver


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