The proposed settlement with WS Communities (WSC) over 13 of its “builder’s remedy” project sites will have a huge impact on Santa Monica and its residents for generations to come. When the news broke last September that this developer had filed applications for 14 projects under a “builder’s remedy” statute to construct buildings as high as 20 stories and over 4000 units citywide there was widespread opposition. Residents urged the city to hire outside counsel and oppose these projects. https://smclc.net/DevIgnoreZoning10-17-22.html
In response, the City Attorney retained outside counsel who advised the City Council that there were good legal grounds to contest the filings once formal applications were filed, and one of his highest priorities was to keep the Council and the public informed.
In spite of this, last Thursday city staff placed a settlement item on the Council agenda for tomorrow’s Council meeting as though it were just a routine item.
But this is NOT a one-off settlement between a developer and the City over one site. WSC owns 14 builder’s remedy sites throughout the City and this settlement apparently would greenlight the construction of 1000s of housing units.
This proposed settlement is essentially a mega-development agreement – the biggest one in the city’s history. Given this, there needs to be a high degree of disclosure as to what is being built and what the real-life benefits and burdens to the community will be if implemented. And there needs to be a more open and transparent process and sufficient notice than simply adding, almost as an afterthought, an administrative item to an already packed Council agenda.
Unfortunately, the staff report recommending settlement is seriously deficient. It omits critical information that is necessary for the Council and the public to weigh to determine if the settlement is in the interests of Santa Monica before approving it.
Key deficiencies in the staff report include:
Stating that “the housing built by the owners will satisfy a significant portion of the City’s regional housing needs, as planned in its certified Housing Element” without giving the actual numbers, including the number of affordable housing units;
Setting forth significant benefits to WSC in developing these sites, which include expedited processing, ministerial review (precluding public scrutiny), and waiver of any environmental review as to adverse impacts which otherwise could require mitigations;
Failing to identify any of the corresponding burdens to the City and its residents, including increased City costs and strain on infrastructure if all of these projects come online within the next few years;
Failing to disclose to the Council or the public what actually will be built on any of these sites (the heights and number of units, including affordable units) in comparison to the builder’s remedy numbers posted on the City’s website at https://www.santamonica.gov/builders-remedy;
Stating that the 14th WSC project on Euclid (200 units/18-stories) would remain a builder’s remedy project and be excluded from the settlement without explaining what this means (is the City reserving its legal right to disapprove it?); and
Failing to provide a copy of any proposed settlement agreement as part of the approval process (this is, in essence, a development agreement).
Absent this critical information the Council should not move forward. It’s impossible to determine what the Council actually would be approving to be built – is it what was originally proposed or is it being modified? If modified, how? And how much affordable housing will be built under this settlement to satisfy the State’s requirement that 2/3s of the required new housing be affordable?
Moreover, it should be relatively easy for the planning staff to update the builder’s remedy chart on the City’s website as to the proposed settlement with the total height, number of units and affordable units for each project so the public is kept informed.
When a development agreement as momentous as this one occurs, residents are relying upon the Council to do the work, to ask the hard questions, and to demand accurate and complete information to ascertain whether this settlement is reasonable, and in the City’s best interest before approving it. This is even more important here, given the well-known history of WSC’s predecessor (NMS).
Please do not move forward with any settlement with WSC until you have adequate answers to these issues and you can explain to residents what our City will look like if this settlement is approved, why it’s in the interests of the City to approve it, and when it’s anticipated that these expedited projects would come online.
Victor, Diana, Sherrill and Jeff