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State Says Santa Monica Can Keep Downtown Parking Structures

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

December 18, 2013 -- Santa Monica officials breathed a sigh of relief Monday when State officials announced that the City could keep six vital Downtown parking structures formerly owned by the bayside city’s now-defunct redevelopment agency (RDA).

Originally, the State Department of Finance (DOF) argued that Santa Monica might have to sell the properties -- a result of Governor Jerry Brown’s dissolution of RDAs throughout the State -- because the six structures were not technically being used for a “governmental purpose.”

The DOF’s determination is welcome news for those who worried that losing parking in the heart of a vibrant, regional destination, would be a major blow to the city.

“We are definitely pleased with the decision,” said Kathleen Rawson, the CEO of Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. “Now that the determination is final, we can move forward on the important issues of circulation and parking in the Downtown core.”

Andy Agle, Santa Monica’s director of Housing and Economic Finance, said that the DOF’s ruling “ensures that the parking structures will continue to be operated by the City for the benefit of Downtown visitors and businesses.”

That includes the rebuilt Parking Structure 6, which the City will reopen Thursday after more than 10 months of construction that doubles the number of spaces.

The DOF presented Santa Monica officials in August with a list of properties, once owned by the City’s former RDA, that it argued the City might have to sell.

Those properties, along with the six parking structures, included Tongva Park -- across the street from City Hall -- and the new public street being constructed as part of the Civic Center Village project.

State law explicitly lists parks and public rights-of-way as “governmental use” that are exempt from being sold to pay debts of former RDAs.

At the time of the determination, neither Tongva Park nor the new street had been completed. ("For Santa Monica to Keep Vital Properties, More Obstacles Ahead," August 23)

Once the City files the proper paper work, ownership will pass to the City without a problem, Agle said.

That wasn’t necessarily the case with the parking structures.

In November, Agle, City Manager Rod Gould and Assemblymember Richard Bloom -- who was mayor when RDAs were dissolved in February 2012 -- flew to Sacramento to meet with DOF officials and make their case.

After the meeting, Bloom, who represents Santa Monica in Sacramento as part of Assembly District 50, said that he and his colleagues were “cautiously optimistic.” ("Staff 'Cautiously Optimistic' About Future of Downtown Santa Monica Parking Structures," November 7)

At the November meeting, City officials provided documents that supported their claim to the structures.

The DOF was persuaded particularly by the fact that the City Council, in 1986, passed an ordinance levying a fee for the “operation, maintenance, and repair of public improvements on the Third Street Mall and Downtown Assessment District,” the letter said.

Monday’s determination brings Santa Monica’s ongoing battle with Sacramento officials over assets once controlled by its RDA closer to an end.

In October, the City agreed to pay $56.7 million to end a dispute with the State over how much Santa Monica’s former RDA owed to the County. ("Santa Monica Will Pay $57 Million to End Battle with State Over Redevelopment Agency Funds," October 25)

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