Santa Monica Lookout
Council Takes Steps Toward Dealing with Santa Monica Development Boom
By Jason Islas
January 11, 2013 -- The Santa Monica City Council took steps to streamline the development agreement (DA) process Tuesday in order to help deal with a record number of DA applications, but opted not to slow down or stop the flow of major projects.
The Council told staff that they would like to see more community input earlier in the DA process and that staff should prioritize small projects that would generate less traffic until the Bergamot Area and the Downtown Specific plans and the new zoning ordinance are adopted.
Projects that exceed the minimum requirements for on-site affordable housing could also be prioritized.
The move comes after half a dozen neighborhood groups complained that the City was approving far too many DAs, with a record 34 currently being approved or considered. That compares with just 12 projects built with DAs between 1981 and 2007.
“We're a little bit here like the snake that ate the rat and now we are having trouble digesting the rat because the rat got really big,” said Council member Gleam Davis.
City officials attributed the building boom to lower height limits for projects that must go through the DA process, as well as a backlog of projects that were put on hold while the City drafted a new Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE).
Council members tried to find a compromise between those who want to maintain the status quo and those who believe a moratorium on large development is in order.
“We're going to be asked to find an appropriate, responsible middle road,” said Council member Kevin McKeown.
McKeown said that the City should prioritize workforce housing and high-revenue, low-traffic developments especially in the retail and hotel industries.
Winterer and Council member Tony Vazquez thought that affordable housing should be a priority, a concern shared by many.
“In the financial climate... it is essential that the City allows projects consistent with the LUCE to proceed at a reasonable speed,” Laurel Rosen, president of the Chamber of Commerce, told the Council Tuesday.
“With the loss of Redevelopment, the City is dependent on new development for the creation of affordable housing that is desperately needed by our workforce,” she said.
For the past decade, approximately 80 percent of Santa Monica's affordable housing was paid for with Redevelopment Agency (RDA) funds. However, the tens of millions of dollars the City's RDA received annually dried up when, in February last year, Governor Jerry Brown passed a law ending RDAs state-wide.
“Without that source, then affordable housing is produced by the for-profit developers who meet their affordable housing obligation by building on-site units,” Housing Administrator Jim Kemper told The Lookout Thursday.
According to staff, if all the DAs in the pipeline go through, Santa Monica would net 3,395 residential units..
In general, the Council asked staff to revise the initial public meeting process, asking developers to organize and pay for community meetings.
Davis said the current process is deficient. “These early meetings are not satisfying,” she said. “It's not really an interactive process.”
She added that the public needs to be able to give more constructive feedback at an earlier stage in the process and that developers need to be more responsive.
The float-up process, which allows developers to obtain initial feedback on projects still in their conceptual stage, would be streamlined by holding joint meetings of the Planning Commission and four members of the Architectural Review Board (ARB).
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