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Development Agreements Win Over Moratorium

By Anita Varghese
Staff Writer

August 31 -- The City Council adopted an emergency interim ordinance Tuesday that requires development agreements for large projects in Santa Monica’s industrial corridor, a move that dismayed residents pushing for a moratorium.

The ordinance is meant to slow development in the Light Manufacturing and Studio District (LMSD) and the Industrial Conservation District (M1), while the City updates the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) of the general plan that guides development citywide.

The emergency ordinance requires development agreements for all projects in the LMSD and M1 that contain more than 7,500 square feet of floor area or more than 15 housing, artist studio or single-room occupancy units.

Exempt from the emergency ordinance are auto dealerships and parcels that undergo land use changes.

The interim ordinance could halt several major developments currently in the planning pipeline, including a proposed 623-unit complex in the roughly 400-acre “Industrial Lands,” which City officials worry could lack the necessary infrastructure.

“In terms of the challenges faced in this area, what has prompted council and staff to bring this ordinance is that, right now, we have unplanned piecemeal development,” said Eileen Fogarty, the City’s planning director.

“We also have a great increase in speculative development, and we are seeing very large parcels -- parcels that far exceed the typical parcel size in the rest of the city -- being developed, many of them with residential development where there are disconnected roadways and inadequate infrastructure.”

This ordinance will only be valid for 60 days, beginning August 28. Staff will bring back a longer-term interim ordinance in the fall.

Council member Kevin McKeown voted for the ordinance, but worried that affordable housing projects would be delayed because of new development agreement requirements.

Before another ordinance returns in the fall, staff will look at including an exemption for affordable housing projects.

“I’m just not sure this is the right tool we should be using at this time, in part because I share the Planning Department’s commitment to move forward with the LUCE process and give the public the chance to codify the vision the community has begun to articulate for us,” McKeown said.

Fogarty said staff reviewed options that ranged from taking no action to presenting a development moratorium.

She said the emergency interim ordinance provides the City with a “stronger and more realistic approach in the long run.”

According to City Attorney Marsha Moutrie, “State law imposes limitations on what anyone can do with a moratorium and how long a moratorium can last.”

To enact a moratorium, state law requires cities to adhere to a shorter timeline than what is mandated by municipal ordinances, said Deputy City Attorney Barry Rosenbaum, who is in charge of land use.

City officials are required to make a specific set of findings if they desire a longer moratorium, make additional and stronger findings if the moratorium has an impact on housing development and come up with a super majority of six council members on the seven-member council.

Residents and community activists who have been clamoring for a citywide moratorium are dismayed with the Council’s choice of the development agreement option and disagree with the City Attorney’s legal conclusions.

“There is a dark side to development agreements as understood in this city for the last 30 years,” said Diana Gordon, an advisory board member for the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City.

“Residents don’t like development agreements because new rules are made for developers -- developers who don’t have to follow zoning ordinances for a particular area or keep their obligations to provide public benefits such as community rooms or daycare centers.”

Gordon said the emergency interim ordinance is “ill-advised” and negotiating development agreements would be “like putting the cart before the horse,” considering the industrial zones already lack infrastructure for more commercial or residential projects.

“The Council is not getting the whole story on why a moratorium is the better way to go,” Gordon said. “State law is really not that different from the interim ordinance.

“The concern that housing could be impacted by a moratorium is not significant when City staff has already made compelling findings as to why large-scale residential projects in the LMSD are at odds with the health and safety of the community.”

The five Council members present needed to unanimously vote for some way of keeping the City’s planning processes moving forward because Mayor Pro Tem Herb Katz was absent from Tuesday’s meeting and Councilman Bobby Shriver left before the ordinance was heard late in the night.

“Development agreements are not the perfect solution, but just like preferential parking, they may be the best solution we currently have,” said Councilman Ken Genser.

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"Right now, we have unplanned piecemeal development.” Eileen Fogarty


“I’m just not sure this is the right tool we should be using at this time." Kevin McKeown


"Development agreements are not the perfect solution, but. . . they may be the best solution we currently have.” Ken Genser.


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