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Council Ends Negotiations to Sell Civic Auditorium for Affordable Housing

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By Jorge Casuso

July 27, 2023 -- The City Council on Tuesday terminated negotiations with Community Corp, Santa Monica's biggest affordable housing developer, to buy the historic Civic Auditorium.

The closed session decision leaves the School District as the only party negotiating to buy the historic 1950s building on a site the Council has declared "surplus land."

Negotiations with Community Corp were held as the City has been earmarking land to sell or lease so it can meet a daunting State mandate to plan for 6,168 new affordable housing units over the next eight years.

It has not been revealed how Community Corp planned to make housing work on the three-acre Civic Center site with the sprawling low-slung auditorium this is designated a local historic landmark.

City officials said Thursday they are "in communications" with the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), which defines eligible housing sponsors under the State's Surplus Land Act (SLA).

Tuesday's Council decision was celebrated by preservationists and slow-growth activists who have mounted a campaign to restore the moth-balled auditorium as a prominent public venue.

"One down, one to go!" the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) wrote in an email to supporters Thursday. "Council heard us and has rejected one of the two bids to take over the Civic.

"As to the remaining school district bid that is being finalized, it will likely be discussed in early September in Council closed session."

The School District is reportedly eyeing the venue -- which once hosted legendary rock acts and the Academy Awards -- for a gymnasium as part of its Samohi Campus Plan.

Previous efforts to resurrect the seismically compromised auditorium have failed, especially after the City lost some $20 million a year in redevelopment funds in 2011 when then Governor Jerry Brown axed more than 400 redevelopment agencies.

In Thursday's email, SMCLC told supporters that "there will be talks with like-minded people about forming a group to 'Save the Civic,' and restore it to prominent public use."

Negotiations with Community Corp were terminated amid growing opposition to the Council's closed door negotiations to sell what is Santa Monica's most iconic building.

Items to negotiate with the two parties vying for the site were added to Tuesday's closed session agenda last Friday after they were postponed three days earlier.

Once the City declared the Civic Auditorium site as "surplus land" last October, it was required to "follow a statutory noticing and negotiation period with certain designated entities," according to City staff.

The entities must be registered with the State for specified uses, including affordable housing, parks and recreation, and schools, staff said.

When a Notice of Availability (NOA) is sent to eligible parties, those interested in buying or leasing the surplus land must notify the City within 60 days of the notice being sent, staff wrote.

Only the School District and Community Corp submitted proposals by the deadline, staff said.

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