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Slow-Growth Group Launches Battle to Stop Project on Gelson's Site
 

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By Jorge Casuso

April 7, 2022 -- A slow growth Santa Monica group with a hefty legal warchest is taking on the city's biggest housing development in more than half a century, despite warnings the project can't be stopped under State law.

The Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) announced Thursday that it had "served objections to the completeness of the application" for the nearly 900,000-square-foot project at the Gelson's site at Lincoln and Ocean Park boulevards.

The move comes shortly before the City completes it review of preliminary plans for the proposed 521-unit Lincoln Center project, which only requires administrative approval.

"We're gong to take this on," said Diana Gordon, who heads the Coalition. "I think the planning director (David Martin) has bought into the developer's schtick that 'we can do this, we can do this.'

"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."

In an email to supporters Monday, Coalition leaders said it was "remarkable" the developer, SanMon, Inc., submitted preliminary plans that lack basic information.

Among the required information missing from the application are separate elevations and "fully dimensional" floor plans for the 12 buildings proposed on the 4.7-acre site, according to the email.

Also missing are the responses to the questions and comments from a community ZOOM meeting that drew more than 500 people.

“Any homeowner who has tried to remodel in this City is aware of the exacting requirements of the Planning Department," said Beverly Grossman Palmer, a partner at Strumwasser & Woocher, the law firm representing the Coalition.

"This developer should be held to the same standards,” she said.

Gordon acknowledges that the developer will file a complete application, but she said it's important to signal that the Coalition is ready for a legal battle.

"The real test will come if they plow ahead with the current project instead of redesigning it to meet the City’s objective development and affordable housing standards, public health and safety, and applicable state laws," the Coalition's email said.

Under SB330, which is meant to fast track new housing construction, there will be no meetings before the Planning Commission or City Council and no Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project, which includes parking for 880 cars and 816 bicycles.

And opponents cannot place the project -- which includes 468 market rate and 53 affordable units -- before local voters as a referendum, since no legislative action will be taken.

"People really aren't understanding where we are in this process," Planning Director David Martin told The Lookout in February.

"There is nothing we can do to stop this" ("News Analysis -- Gelson's Proposed Project Is a Done Deal Under State Law," February 23, 2022).

The Coalition's battle against the Lincoln Center project comes nearly a year and a half after it filed a lawsuit against the City in an effort to halt negotiations over the Plaza Project on City owned land Downtown ("Slow-Growth Group Sues City to Halt Plaza Negotiations," September 25, 2020).

The lawsuit charged that the City failed to abide by the State's Surplus Land Act, which requires that the land be offered for affordable housing or use as open space.

The case was dropped in December 2020 after three newly sworn Councilmembers joined in a 4 to 3 vote to reverse a decision by the previous Council to proceed with negotiations with the developer, Clarett West.

In May 2021, in a highly unusual move, the Council voted to award attorneys fees in the Coalition's lawsuit against the City ("Council Awards Legal Fees in Plaza Lawsuit," May 12, 2021).

To fight the Lincoln Center project, Gordon said, "we will use the donations residents gave us to contest The Plaza and then authorized us to keep for future battles like this."


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