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Slow-Growth Group Opposes 'Builder's Remedy' Settlement Agreement

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By Jorge Casuso

May 8, 2023 -- Santa Monica's most powerful slow-growth group on Monday urged the City Council to put the brakes on a proposed settlement agreement that would avert 13 "builder's remedy" projects totaling nearly 4,200 units.

In a letter to the Council, the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City warned that there is not enough information about the projects developer WS plans to build on the sites for the Council to agree to the settlement on Tuesday.

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The Council, the letter warned, could be hastily entering into an agreement that could open the door to thousands of units that "will have a huge impact on Santa Monica and its residents for generations to come."

"This proposed settlement is essentially a mega-development agreement -- the biggest one in the city's history," the letter said.

"Given this, there needs to be a high degree of disclosure as to what is being built and what the real-life benefits and burdens to the community will be if implemented.

"And there needs to be a more open and transparent process and sufficient notice than simply adding, almost as an afterthought, an administrative item to an already packed Council agenda," the letter said.

Land use attorney Dave Rand, who represents WS, has said it is unclear how many units would be produced under the City's ministerial planning process because the proposed projects have not been designed.

But he said it would be fewer than the 4,176 units -- 836 of them affordable -- that would be built under the "Builder's remedy" in the State's housing law, which would allow the developments to bypass the City's zoning code and general plan.

Under the proposed agreement, Rand said, "We're now using the City's baseline standards. We are now tethered to the City's rules.

"The height is going to come down," he said. "The density is going to come down."

The Coalition worries that the settlement agreement would fast-track the projects under a ministerial review that "precludes public scrutiny" and waive "any environmental review as to adverse impacts which otherwise could require mitigations."

The Coalition believes the staff report from City Attorney Doug Sloan should "identify any of the corresponding burdens to the City and its residents, including increased City costs and strain on infrastructure if all of these projects come online within the next few years."

It also wants the report to disclose the heights and number of market-rate and affordable units that would be built on the 13 sites.

"When a development agreement as momentous as this one occurs, residents are relying upon the Council to do the work, to ask the hard questions, to demand accurate and complete information to ascertain whether this settlement is reasonable, and in the City’s best interest before approving it," the letter concluded.

Rand cautioned that the proposed agreement provides "a very small window where both sides get what they want" ("WS Could Pull 13 'Builder's Remedy' Projects Under Proposed Settlement Agreement," May 5, 2023).

"If the neighbors want to fight this, they are going to lose that window," Rand said. “You're on the verge of killing it.

"We will be back Wednesday with the builder's remedy projects."

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