CITY HALL — The City Council, with a 5-1 vote, has given its blessing to a development agreement with bio-tech company Agensys that will allow the Santa Monica-based drug maker to build its new headquarters on a City Hall-owned lot near Bergamot Station.
As part of the deal, the company plans to provide a “public benefits” package that includes a sculpture garden, a pedestrian walkway, a publicly accessible cafe, a program aimed at reducing employees’ vehicle trips, and up to $90,000 for bicycle infrastructure improvements. The company has also agreed to sponsor an internship program for local students and host a job fair. Under the deal, Agensys said it will seek to hire local workers, though it made no commitment to do so.
Despite pressure from bicycle activists and their allies on the council and Planning Commission, a proposed bicycle path through the property, located at 1800 Stewart St., was not included in the final plans for the nearly 160,000 square-foot facility. As a consolation prize for cyclists, the council approved an additional $20,000 contribution from Agensys for city-wide bicycle studies and related improvements, on top of $70,350 Agensys has already agreed to pay for bicycle improvements in the project’s vicinity.
The finalized agreement will return to the council on Sept. 28 for a routine second reading, at which point Agensys is expected to agree to its terms.
The majority on the council praised the agreement, saying it would benefit Santa Monicans by keeping a desirable employer in town while improving a neighborhood slated for redevelopment.
Some bicycle advocates who spoke at the meeting, though, called the deal a “missed opportunity” for promoting active transportation.
With as many as 10 additional development agreements slated to come before the council within the next two years, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Richard McKinnon said leaders need to do more to include measures friendly to cyclists in future deals. Otherwise, decision makers will end up “ruing the fact that we have not been able to increase the connectivity of alternative methods of transportation in this city” — a major goal laid out in City Hall’s recent general plan update, he said.
The sharpest criticism of the deal, though, came from Mayor Bobby Shriver, who cast the only dissenting vote.
In remarks before the vote, he said City Hall staff had failed to provide the council with enough information about the value of key aspects of the deal, making it impossible to decide whether Agensys was providing adequate public benefits.
Under the agreement, Agensys is taking over a lease currently held by Texas-based developer Lionstone and extending that lease with City Hall for 10 years. A City Hall report on the deal did not quantify how much the lease extension was worth, prompting Shriver’s criticism.
“To me, this is not the way I would do this is if I were representing a single owner of this property,” he said.
Shriver also dismissed earlier comments by Agensys representatives that the company should be treated differently than a for-profit developer because its products are used to treat cancer.
“With all due respect to that laudable goal, I don’t think it’s fair to come to your partner in the deal and say that ‘Because we’re curing cancer and you’re not, you should give us all the money,’” he said.
He called the argument that Agensys deserves special treatment “cancer washing” — a cheap attempt to get humanitarian credit where none is due.
Shriver also said the deal proposed on Tuesday did not honor the council’s earlier direction to include a “robust” jobs program in the development agreement.
“The deal being brought to us tonight has not one single job in it. Period,” he said. “A job fair is nice and it’s nice that they’re going to consider people who apply, but they have no obligation to hire anybody [from Santa Monica],” he said.
In supporting the agreement, Councilman Richard Bloom said he believed Santa Monica residents would find jobs with Agensys despite the lack of a mandate.
He said the public benefits package and the fact that Santa Monica will be retaining a high value employer make the agreement with Agensys worthwhile.
“I am absolutely certain that other communities would bend over backwards — would be fighting and climbing over one another — to attract this kind of business to their city,” he said.