On Tuesday evening, the Santa Monica City Council considered a settlement agreement between the city and developer “WS.”

If a locality has not adopted a housing element in substantial compliance with state law, developers may propose housing development projects that do not comply with either the zoning or the general plan using the “Builder’s Remedy.” Proposed housing projects filed under this provision must either offer 20 percent of the total units available to lower-income households or make 100 percent of all units available for moderate or middle-income households.

The settlement was reached after a dispute between the builder and the city arose over the applicability of the “Builders Remedy” to 13 proposed housing developments filed during a period where the city had passed a Housing Element, but it was under review by the State Housing and Community Development (HCD) Department for compliance with state law and subsequent approval. The city’s position was that the 13 proposed projects filed during this time did not comply with what they saw as a completed Housing Element.

Under the provisions of the settlement, WS must suspend and ultimately withdraw the 13 permits. If they refile them, they must agree that:

  • Eight of the projects will conform to local codes
  • The proposed project for 3030 Nebraska Avenue would be code-conforming and sub-divided into four lots of under one acre each
  • That three of the proposed projects would not be refiled

In addition, WS must provide relocation rights to three former tenants along with relocation assistance and rent reductions in their new units.

For its part, the city would be required to give future consideration (but with no obligation) to certain development incentives. Among them:

  • Increase parking maximums in the Downtown Community Plan area from .5 to 1.0 spaces per unit
  • Allow off-site options for the building of affordable units
    • A reduction from 20 to 15 percent affordable
    • Credit the off-site units toward the State Density Bonus
  • Expedited ministerial processing timelines on filed applications

It was made clear later in the council discussion on the item that the settlement agreement would be void if it is not approved that night by the city council.

Several interested parties with New Roads school off of Olympic Blvd addressed the council during public comment about their concerns regarding a potential development that would be built in between the school’s property on the north side of Olympic Blvd and their early learning site a little further west down the way.

Councilmember Jesse Zwick asked Assistant City Attorney Susan Cola, “What, if any measures will the city have to require that the surrounding community be protected from any adverse effects?”

Cola mentioned the developer’s offer to coordinate certain aspects of the potential development at that site working with New Roads parents, administrators, and stakeholders. She also spoke to state laws surrounding the proper way any potentially contaminated soil might be removed being kept away from students. She also mentioned that the Regional Water Quality Control Board will still have jurisdiction over any contaminated groundwater that may be discovered. “None of that is waved” as part of the settlement, she assured Zwick and the council.

“It seems like there’s been a lot of confusion and potentially false narratives in the community about what is happening and what is not,” commented Councilmember Caroline Torosis. “We, for several months, have been carefully discussing this,” and later added, “We’re doing this to help get rid of the Builder’s Remedy projects. We heard loud and clear from the community that they were concerned with the over 4,000 units that were going to come to our city without any kind of local control or any ability to ensure that it was in the character and context of our community.” She also reassured the public that the settlement doesn’t allow for more development, but limits it.

Councilmember Christine Parra, also trying to ensure New Roads stakeholders and the public, said, “I was in your seat many, many times trying to protect my quality of life and those of my neighbors in the Pico Neighborhood, being affected by the Expo Maintenance Yard, that I am still affected by 24/7. So, if anybody can sympathize, and empathize, it is me.” She later added, “Know you had advocates here, on council and in closed session, during this entire issue.”

“This agreement right-sizes almost all of the development and eliminates the threat by Builder’s Remedy, once and forever,” declared Phil Brock, in a fairly passionate appeal that seemed especially intended to soothe his slow-to-no-growth supporters. “I think we are eliminating oversized development in a majority of the city.” Later concluding, “I wouldn’t be amenable to voting for this if I thought it was going to hurt our neighborhoods.”

The settlement agreement was adopted with a unanimous 7-0 vote.

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