CITY HALL — With lax enforcement and no annual reviews before the City Council, most developers who promised “community benefits” in exchange for permission to build bigger projects in Santa Monica have failed to live up to their commitments, according to a City Hall report.
The report was the product of a year-long review conducted by the Planning Department intended to re-establish “systematic monitoring procedures” for projects built under “development agreements” — specialized contracts that generally grant exceptions to zoning restrictions in exchange for benefits like affordable housing, open space or donations to non-profits.
The report comes as the City Council tonight is set to discuss how to ensure developers of large-scale projects will be held accountable, and what steps to take with developers who haven’t held up their end of bargains.
It also precedes final hearing on City Hall’s Land Use and Circulation Element, a long-range planning document that envisions using development agreements as an important tool to implement affordable housing and transportation management policies.
Since 1982, City Hall has had an ordinance in place requiring annual reviews of projects built under development agreements but has not conducted the reviews.
The City Hall report found that of 12 projects built under development agreements since 1982, just four have fully complied with their obligations. The four projects that are in compliance are: Rand Corp., Lantana East, Lantana South and Santa Monica College’s parking structure and community pool.
Among the benefits provided by the developers of the projects were donations to early childhood development programs, donations to arts programs, new restrooms at Stewart Park, and off-site road improvements.
The other eight projects are in various states of non-compliance.
Five projects, Yahoo Center, the MTV building, the Water Garden, St. John’s Health Center, and the Maguire-Thomas commercial building, have been deemed to be in “substantial compliance” but have not met all of their requirements.
The other three projects, the Sheraton Delphina Hotel, the Paseo Del Mar commercial complex on Ocean Avenue, and the Arboretum residential building, are not in compliance, the report said.
City Hall has sued the owners of the Arboretum, alleging they failed to verify income requirements for deed-restricted units.
The Paseo Del Mar project was required to provide 10 deed-restricted affordable housing units, pay a $75,000 art and social service fee (or provide on-site art worth that amount), and to create a parking, carpool, and transit incentive program.
The City Hall report said there are outstanding concerns about each aspect of the development’s obligations.
The report said the Sheraton Delphina may have violated aspects of a local hiring program, an obligation to provide public art, and a parking arrangement that were required under the project’s development agreement.
In addition to the eight projects deemed not to have complied with their commitments, there are five projects built before 1982 under development agreements. One of the projects, the Dorchester residential building, is being investigated by the City Attorney’s Office for possible failure to comply with its affordable housing obligations.
City Hall officials on Monday lauded the report as a step in the right direction.
“We need to make sure that people don’t think they can get away with not providing the affordable units the way they’re supposed to,” said Planning Commissioner Ted Winterer.
Councilman Kevin McKeown said the review turned up “troubling corner-cutting in some cases” and said violations of development agreements, especially with respect to affordable housing requirements, should not be tolerated.
“We’ve taken one developer to court already, and I hope the council will affirm unyielding commitment to full enforcement on all housing and affordability issues,” he said.