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Slow-Growth Group Advises City to Fight 'Developer Ambush'


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By Jorge Casuso

October 17, 2022 -- Santa Monica's leading slow-growth group advised the City on Monday to immediately address the "developer ambush" mounted shortly before its housing plan was approved by the State on Friday.

In a statement, the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) advised City officials to hire outside counsel to help it reject the 16 proposed developments totaling 4,562 units -- 20 percent of them affordable -- rushed into the planning pipeline over the past two weeks.

The proposals -- 15 of them from NMS and WSC -- were submitted under a state law that allows developers to bypass the City's zoning code and general plan if its Housing Element has not been approved by the State ("City Officials Caught Off Guard By Flurry of Development Submissions," October 13, 2022)..

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"To say residents and council members are deeply concerned about this developer ambush and have questions that must be answered is an understatement," the Coalition wrote.

"We need an immediate analysis of the legal options and remedies available to the City to respond to these filings, and to explore potential avenues to reject them.

"This is even more urgent because those who are pushing rapid, unsustainable development in our city are already peddling the false narrative that nothing can be done to prevent this," the Coalition said.

The group advised the City not to process the proposals until it hires "an experienced legal counsel" to review its "rights and remedies under all applicable laws to reject these applications."

"We believe outside counsel review is imperative in part because of statements made by City planning staff," the Coalition wrote.

Staff, the group said, "have told council members as well as the press that we’re stuck with these projects even though they massively exceed what Santa Monica zoning allows and ignore relevant state law."

The Coalition urged the Council to take up the issue at its next meeting on October 25.

Over the past two decades, SMCLC has successfully pressured the Council and fought legal battles against the City in an effort to stop major developments.

In 2005, the group led a successful grassroots campaign to block Macerich's ambitious plan to redevelop Santa Monica Place and add three 21-story condo towers above the mall.

It also sued to gain access to documents related to meetings held between the City and Macerich. Under a settlement reached the following year, the Coalition obtained the documents and was awarded nearly $36,000 in attorney's fees.

More recently, SMCLC sued the City in an effort to kill the 357,000-square-foot mixed use Plaza project on City owned land Downtown.

In a highly unusual move, the Council in May of last year voted 6 to 1 to award the slow-growth group more than $100,000 in attorneys fees after the Council killed the project ("Council Awards Legal Fees in Plaza Lawsuit," May 12, 2021).

This April, SMCLC announced it would use its hefty legal war chest to fight the proposed 900,000-square-foot project at the Gelson's site at Lincoln and Ocean Park boulevards ("Slow-Growth Group Launches Battle to Stop Project on Gelson's Site," April 7, 2022).

"The City is not going to sue the developer and the developer is not going to sue the City," Gordon said. "At the end of the day it's going to be the residents that can go to it."

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