In Tuesday’s lengthy meeting Council voted unanimously to bring 13 Builders Remedy projects back into the regular development pipeline through incentives created as part of a settlement with the developer WS Communities.
The settlement offers WS a number of incentives to reenter the normal development process. It allows the developer to combine affordable housing requirements from individual projects into a single location, while preserving State density bonuses that would otherwise be invalid if affordable housing were combined. It also offers increased allowable parking in their developments.
In exchange, the developer will withdraw all their Builders Remedy projects with the right to file for new projects that are within existing zoning rules.
The City of Santa Monica failed to adopt a state mandated Housing Element by the deadline, allowing developers to file for Builders Remedy projects. Those projects were entirely outside city control and could bypass all zoning rules provided they meet minimum standards for affordability. The City said it maintained the applications were not valid and the application of the provision is untested in court but chose to pursue a settlement with the developer to prevent more than 4,000 units from flooding the city outside regular development rules.
Public comment on the item focused heavily on one proposed project, 3030 Nebraska Ave, would potentially affect children attending the New Roads School and the Little Dolphins By The Sea pre-school. Parents and officials from the school generated extremely passionate remarks in the public comments section, including allegations of Brown Act violations, but a representative for the developer said the settlement was actually beneficial for the concerned parents as it would terminate the huge project looming over their schools.
Dave Rand, attorney with Rand Paster & Nelson LLP, representing the developer WS Communities attempted to address these concerns before he ran out of time.
“The settlement agreement in front of you this evening is the pathway to suspend and ultimately terminate that project and right size the development that will be coming in the future tethered to your regulations, your zoning requirements that you just adopted.
“So tonight is the potential nail in the coffin to the project that has exercised most of the people I believe in the room here tonight. There are no actual other projects that have been designed, nothing in the agreement waives CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act] where it otherwise wouldn’t have been waived. Nothing in the agreement creates an administrative approval process where it doesn’t already exist and the rules and regulations you’ve just adopted. All this does is bring the projects out from no man’s land into the regulations that you’ve adopted, you are reining them in and regaining control.”
Aside from seeking some clarification on a small number of fine details, councilmembers seemed unified on their opinions. However, several felt it was necessary for some additional explanation to those members of the public gathered at City Hall and watching on YouTube that City Council had in fact been discussing this matter for some time, but in closed sessions. Consequently, few might be aware that this vote had been carefully considered and not just thrown together ad hoc since it appeared on the agenda relatively late.
“We’ve been in multiple discussions in closed session and it’s really hard for Council when we cannot disclose to the public what we’re discussing in closed session. So I just want to be clear — as a member of the community who is very much concerned about overdevelopment in the city I grew up in — that there was a lot of thought and discussion going back and forth,” Mayor Pro Tempre Lana Negrete said.
“So this is not just a hasty decision that came before us a couple hours ago. I want to reiterate that these illustrations you saw on the screen are not things that are actually happening anytime soon,” she added. “It’s unfortunate, because everybody comes out and there’s a lot of emotions and we’ve got to get better at figuring out how to be able to inform the public, especially when we’re in closed sessions like this and we don’t have the luxury of sharing information so openly,” said Negrete.
Staff said the settlement deal would expire at that night, meaning Council had to approve the deal without delay or take its chances with lawsuits that might not have any impact on the final projects.
Councilmember Phil Brock said, “The state has mandated we’re going to grow. We don’t have a choice. We have to fulfill our housing mandates. This agreement, right sizes, almost all of the development and eliminates the threat by Builders’ Remedy,” adding, “I believe this is a win for our residents.”
The settlement covered 13 projects from the same developer including 1437 6th street, 601 Colorado Avenue, 1518-24 7th Street, 1443 Lincoln Boulevard, 3030 Nebraska Avenue, 2901 Santa Monica Boulevard, 1415-27 5th Street, 1557 7th Street, 1238 7th Street, 1925 Broadway, 12381242 10th Street, 1007 Lincoln Boulevard and 1038 10th Street. A total of 16 projects were approved under the Builders Remedy and the remaining three projects were not impacted by the deal.