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Slow-Growth Group Sues City to Halt Plaza Negotiations

Bob Kronovetrealty
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Santa Monica

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By Jorge Casuso

September 25, 2020 -- A prominent slow-growth group filed a lawsuit against the City on Friday in an effort to halt negotiations over a mixed-use hotel development on publicly owned land Downtown.

The lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court by the Santa Monica Coalition for a Liable City (SMCLC), charges that the City failed to abide by the State's Surplus Land Act, which requires that the land be offered for affordable housing or use as open space.

Instead, the City is "plowing ahead with a highly controversial commercial development, and the biggest part of this projet yet another luxury hotel," said Diana Gordon, SMCLC’s co-chair.

“Residents have been forced to sue because the City refused to follow the law," Gordon said. "This is the only remaining major parcel of publicly-owned, undeveloped land in our downtown and the City is negotiating to privatize it.

"Public land should be used for a public purpose,” she said.

The lawsuit has been anticipated since the City Council voted 6 to 1 on July 28 to continue negotiations with Clarett West, the developer of The Plaza ("Santa Monica Council Votes to Continue Negotiations on 'The Plaza' Project Downtown," July 29, 2020).

In moving ahead with the proposed project on a 2.57-acre site at 4th and 5th streets and Arizona Avenue, the Council decided the revenues, jobs and housing the project would create outweighed the risks of pending litigation.

The proposed 357,000-square-foot mixed-use development includes 106,800 square feet of creative workspace, 42,000 square feet of public space and makes a one-time payment of $24 million to produce affordable housing ("Council to Decide Fate of 'The Plaza' Project," June 22, 2020).

The City is considering a 99-year ground lease for the land formerly occupied by surface parking lots and two bank buildings it purchased a decade ago.

The deal being negotiated shows the hold developers have over City officials, says the Coalition, which was formed in 2005 to fight a proposal that would have replaced Santa Monica Place with a high-rise mixed-use development.

"The City’s conduct," SMCLC wrote in a press release announcing the lawsuit, "demonstrates the abiding hold that developers and those special interests that benefit from their projects have over our city government.

That hold is "so strong that the City Council has put aside its professed support for affordable housing and open space," the Coalition wrote.

“This is unacceptable," Gordon said. "Our city needs affordable housing and needs more open space. SMCLC’s lawsuit seeks to compel the City to pursue these community priorities on our public land.”

The lawsuit asks the court to halt the negotiations with Clarett West, and to order the City to "comply fully" with the mandatory duties the State law imposes.

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