Santa Monica City Council Divided Over Process For Proposed Developments

Saturday, 15 Jun 2013, 9:21:00 AM

Parimal M. Rohit

Lengthy

discussions on the dais and public debates at Santa Monica’s bi-weekly City

Council meetings are generally saved for ordinances or study sessions. By the

time City Council meetings reach the number 13 on the agenda, it would be safe

to presume adjournment is just around the corner.

Such was

not the case June 11 when City Clerk Sarah Gorman called item 13-C.

When Gorman

announced there were 61 speakers in the queue to address the council, it was

immediately apparent adjournment was not quite as close as one would expect

midway through the 13 items.

Indeed,

a council meeting already more than three hours deep would continue on for

nearly three more hours to debate and discuss the Downtown Specific Plan, Land

Use and Circulation Element (LUCE), and height restrictions in Santa Monica’s

downtown core.

Generally,

an issue brought up during the “Council Member Discussion Items” portion of the

agenda to give City staff direction of what to do, such as draft an ordinance

or study a particular matter.

At

the June 11 meeting, Council members Kevin McKeown, Tony Vazquez, and Ted

Winterer sponsored a discussion item requesting their colleagues to direct

staff to slow down the public process for proposed developments who seek to build

projects higher than 84 feet, or six stories.

The direction was shot down, as the trio who

sponsored the discussion item could not muster support from another colleague.

Those who opposed the staff direction argued worried

the public review process might actually be limited should certain projects be

delayed.

McKeown said during the meeting and in an email

afterwards the intent of the staff direction was ensure the timing of how the

process played out would be properly executed and enforced.

While such intent

may likely result in certain projects being delayed by a few months, McKeown

argued they delay would be countered by the fair tradeoff of good governance.

Indeed, McKeown stated the intent of the motion was

“to give the public confidence that we are first looking at the downtown

holistically before approving individual projects.”

A key element of the debate was the Downtown

Specific Plan. McKeown, Vazquez, and Winterer urged for greater patience –

especially with respect to opportunity sites – so that developments could

properly sync up with the Downtown Specific Plan, which is still being

formulated and is expected to be considered by council members as early as

March 2014.

McKeown explained in an email after the June 11

meeting the significance of being patient with current developments on tap and

waiting until the Downtown Specific Plan is fully fleshed out.

“The Downtown Specific Plan will

include in its review the opportunity sites, and it is entirely possible that

the DSP will require rethinking of one or more of the tower projects as

currently proposed. Right now, none is so far along that such rethinking should

be impossible,” McKeown wrote in his email. “My intent, along with my colleagues

Ted and Tony, was to keep us from backing ourselves into a situation where we

have a project with approval momentum that does not match what the community

decides it wants in the Downtown Specific Plan.”

However,

the status quo remains and the current public review process for development

agreements remains in place.

The

Mirror will delve deeper into this

debate in next week’s issue.

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