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Santa Monica City Council Approves Interim LUCE Ordinance  

By Gene Williams
Lookout Staff

January 26, 2011 -- Developers will have to follow stricter building guidelines in Santa Monica sooner than they might have thought, under an interim ordinance approved Tuesday by the City Council.

The stop-gap measure – which passed by a unanimous 5 votes -- enables the city to enforce new standards outlined in the 2010 Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) update. The interim measure is expected to remain in effect while the city works out a permanent ordinance.

Five projects that have already started paperwork with the City will most immediately be affected.

The council’s action is seen as a victory by slow-growth advocates, including more than a dozen residents who came to the council chambers to urge passage of the ordinance.
“We all worked on this [LUCE] for six long years,” said Mary Marlow, an Ocean Park Association member. “And it’s way past time to be under it now.”

But others, including some council members, worried the ordinance could have a chilling effect downtown.

Specifically, all projects exceeding 32 feet in height will have to enter into development agreements with the city -- which include a public hearing, environmental review and a requirement to provide community benefits.

Under previously existing regulations, many downtown projects have been able to go through a simpler administrative process as an incentive to build housing.

Speaking to the council, David Hibbert, an architect and Santa Monica resident, said the simpler process has helped achieve many LUCE goals, including the creation of new neighborhoods where people can both live and work.

“There have been approximately 20 projects that have been approved administratively downtown that have created the so called LUCE vision,” Hibbert said.

“They all happened because they could be approved administratively,” Hibbert added. “If it was not for that, we wouldn’t have those 20 housing projects downtown,”

Attorneys Chris Harding and Tom Larmore, who represent a developer with a pending housing project at 7th Street and Arizona Avenue, agreed.

“The process we’re defending tonight is not a developer process, it’s a City process…. that has worked very well,” Harding said

However, in her presentation earlier in the evening, Planning Director Eileen Fogarty said the existing ordinance only looks at individual projects separately, while LUCE calls for a more integrated “community building approach.”

“The mechanism we have to do that until we have a final zoning ordinance is the development agreement,” Fogarty said. “It’s a critical tool that allows the City and the community to have a coordinated approach.”

Of the 750,000 square feet of projects currently pending review, about 500,000 square feet are in downtown. Of the pending downtown projects, city officials say about 125,000 square feet will be able to proceed before the interim ordinance kicks in on March 11.

Because the interim ordinance is only for 60 days, council will have to revisit the issue sometime before mid May, at which time it may be amended.

During Tuesday’s deliberations, Mayor Richard Bloom suggested waiving development agreement fees and creating “an expedited process” for downtown that would “incentivize the very things that we prize in the LUCE.”

City staff will look into Bloom’s and other’s suggestions before the council takes up the matter again.

A final ordinance including a specific plan for downtown is at least a year away.

LUCE goals include protecting neighborhoods, reducing car trips, requiring builders to provide community benefits, historic preservation and people-friendly urban design.

Council members Bob Holbrook and Bobby Shriver were absent from Tuesday’s meeting.


“The process we’re defending tonight is not a developer process, it’s a City process…. that has worked very well.” Chris Harding

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