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|City Crafting Policy on Development Agreement Enforcement|
By Jonathan Friedman
March 29, 2010 --In response to allegations that the City has not been monitoring and enforcing development agreements, Santa Monica staff is drafting a policy regarding this issue. City Manager Rod Gould says it will go before the City Council for review in the next month or two.
“Then everyone can know here are the rules of the road,” Gould said. “Here is what you can expect in Santa Monica going forward.”
Project builders seek development agreements with the City when they want to do something not allowed in the municipal zoning rules. Often this involves requests for higher density.
Several projects proposed for the east end of Santa Monica that have drawn community scrutiny involve development agreements.
Council members and select City staff met last week about allegations that the 1982 development agreement for the Dorchester House, a condominium on Fourth Street near California Avenue, is not being followed.
The topic was on the agenda for the closed session, a portion of the meeting not open to the public when legal and personnel matters are discussed. State law prohibits City officials from disclosing what happens during closed session. Speaking in general terms, Gould said enforcement was discussed, and the council members want more information on the allegations.
The Dorchester agreement requires the 15 units on the first floor be leased to low-income and moderate-income persons at a reduced rate. It has been alleged that some of the units are occupied by condo owners or are being rented by those “not of modest means” at a market rate.
Gould said the allegations remain under City investigation, but “we have reason to believe that not all of the 15 units are occupied by those who meet the affordable housing guidelines.”
Stanley Epstein, a retired attorney who has been closely following the Dorchester matter, said last year he contacted a Realtor with a listing for a first-floor unit. She also owns one of the first-floor units.
He said she told him 14 of the 15 condos were occupied by owners in violation of the agreement because “everyone knows the City never enforces these restrictions.”
Gould said it is untrue the City ignores development agreement enforcement altogether. He noted the City’s recent lawsuit against the owners of the Arboretum on Colorado Avenue for allegedly violating the affordable housing requirement in its development agreement. See article City Suit Alleges Affordable Housing Violation (Feb. 18, 2010)
But he admitted the City failed when it came to the Dorchester.
“This issue with the Dorchester House was not being carefully monitored,” Gould said. “But we’re on it, and I think it will become apparent in weeks to come what we’re going to do about it.”
Gould added that some people argue the Dorchester agreement had ambiguities, and he said the City has worked to improve recent agreements so they are more straightforward.
Also, he said the City has taken charge of determining the eligibility of potential renters for meeting affordable housing eligibility requirements.
A recently released City document addresses 11 development agreements for which the City has received compliance reports. According to the document, five reports show compliance and three reports are still under City review, including one for Saint John’s Health Center, which has been the focus of controversy for some neighbors.
Another three reports have not been received, including one for the Aboretum. The Dorchester was not mentioned in the document.
At the last Planning Commission meeting, Commissioner Ted Winterer asked that the issue of development agreement compliance be placed on a future agenda.
“We need to have an open discussion of what exactly went wrong … and make sure we get that fixed,” Winterer told The Lookout News.
“Because if we are negotiating all these new development agreements, I think it is incumbent upon the Planning Commission and the Council to make sure that going forward we have great certainty the terms of these deals will be honored.”
“we have reason to believe that not all of the 15 units are occupied by those who meet the affordable housing guidelines.
the 15 condos were occupied by owners in violation of the agreement because
“everyone knows the City never enforces these restrictions.”
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