SMO — City Hall says that it “accomplished its primary goal” in providing a 22,500-square-foot hangar on public land at a highly subsidized rate for a lessee to rent to other artists, according to a report released Tuesday.

The Santa Monica Art Studios, founded a decade ago by artist Yossi Govrin, was never audited to ensure that artists were receiving affordable subleases, despite a contractual obligation that required monthly rents to average $1.50 per square foot.

“Staff has not received complaints about rental rates from any of the subtenants of SMAS,” the report stated. “Thus, staff that administers the lease has no evidence that the rents were or are unaffordable to the artists that use the space. Moreover, the remedy for violations of the affordability requirement is unclear.”

Govrin has repeatedly refused to provide the Daily Press with proof that affordable rates are being offered. He did not respond to e-mails seeking comment and has hung up on a reporter.

City officials plan to hire an independent consultant to complete an audit of the lease, and determine if rents were being offered at the $1.50 rate, by May.

Rent for the space has been paid, officials said, and it’s not clear whether City Hall could sue on behalf of its subtenants.

But affordability was not the primary goal of the council that approved the lease, officials said in the report.

“Council and staff were apparently focused primarily on preserving studio space for artists within the city as land values rose and studio space was redeveloped,” city officials wrote in a recent report on the studios.

It should be noted that the document that council voted on, which allowed then-City Manager Susan McCarthy to negotiate the lease with the Santa Monica Art Studios, said that studios would be available to tenants at an average of about $350 per month. The Daily Press reached out to dozens of artists but only one responded to requests for information about rent, saying she paid about $850 for one of the smallest spaces in the hangar.

Before the studios even opened for business, the Arts Commission recommended that means testing should be performed on all incoming artists so that the space would be “limited to artists who are not able to afford privately owned studio space rented at market rate.”

The initial proposal from the commission suggested that applicants would correspond with 80 percent of the Los Angeles County median income. Today, the median income is about $56,200, according to the census.

Council voted unanimously to send the issue back to the commission with information from city officials about the feasibility of the means testing.

A few months later, council approved means testing, using as a baseline 175 percent of the Los Angeles-Long Beach metropolitan statistical area median family income. Today, this baseline number is around $122,000.

At the council meeting over a decade ago, Govrin spoke in opposition to means testing, according to the meeting’s minutes.

One of the Arts Commission member who presented the suggested means testing to council declined to comment for this article.

There is no evidence provided that shows that means testing has been performed.

In providing this space at the extremely subsidized rate, currently at $9,885 per month, council passed on an estimated $4 million to $6 million over the past 10 years.

On top of renting studios to artists, Santa Monica Art Studios rents exhibition spaces at rates going up to $660 per month, according to its website. The studio takes a 25 percent commission on all sales not handled directly by the artist.

 

dave@smdp.com