City Hall wants property owners to keep their vacant buildings clean, safe and fully built.
At the May 10 Council meeting, Councilmember Sue Himmelrich and Mayor Tony Vazquez asked staff to return with proposals for regulating vacant buildings including registering vacant buildings, regulating the maintenance of vacant buildings, and requiring that the owner of a building with a valid permit for rehabilitation, repair, or construction, complete the rehabilitation, repair, or construction within eighteen months or a specified time certain from the date the permit was issued.
Their request was modeled on rules that exist in other cities and in some places, failure to adhere to the rules can result in the property being declared a public nuisance which could lead to fines for the owner.
Himmelrich said the request follows feedback from Mid-City residents regarding several vacant properties in their neighborhood that have become eyesores and in some cases are attracting squatters. She said the ready supply of example ordinances suggest the problem might have a simple solution.
“That’s why Tony and I put this on, we thought it was worth doing and it looked like it was easy to do,” she said.
City Manager Rick Cole said the problem was important to residents who border the questionable properties but wasn’t something that staff sees as a citywide issue.
“This is not a major problem in Santa Monica but if you live next door to one, it is a major problem in your neighborhood,” he said.
After previously warning the council against establishing new priorities, Cole said addressing the local properties is already on his radar and the request wouldn’t divert resources from other projects.
“We have a handful of these buildings,” he said. “They are nightmares for the neighborhood affected and figuring out how to abate them is something we’re looking at.”
Stacy Dalgleish, SMMCN vice president, said residents are strongly supportive of new regulations.
“We are very pleased and excited about this turn of events, we’ve been trying to get something going on this issue for a long, long time especially the Broadway and Stanford which has been an eyesore and very upsetting to the neighborhood and especially those that have to live close to it,” she said.
Her association has suggested that any construction site left idle for more than 180 days be subject to penalties.
The project at Broadway and Stanford has become infamous among residents. The original four bungalows were damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake and the owner filed permits to replace them with a four unit, two-story apartment building. When the project was approved in 1997, it was given concessions such as smaller setbacks, as part of a package to encourage post-earthquake reconstruction. However, disputes with the contractor caused the project to sit idle and the permits expired in 2000.
Property owner Naren Desai tried to restart construction in 2014 but local regulators denied him the 1997 era concessions and denied a new request to reduce parking requirements.
The property has remained a blackened, windowless hulk and there are no current applications to restart construction.