This letter was sent to the City Council urging them to sunset an ordinance that makes development agreements normal practice (as opposed to exceptional use).
April 14, 2009
Dear City Council,
SMCLC strongly opposes the extension of this ill-advised ordinance for the same reasons we opposed the adoption of the original ordinance in August 2007. The use of development agreements is supposed to be the rare exception to local zoning laws. It is a planning tool relegated to unique situations where substantial public benefits justify the proposed far greater density and height than permitted by zoning regulations, thereby offsetting the significant public burdens that otherwise would be imposed.
Instead, extending this ordinance until January 2012 makes development agreements the norm for virtually all new development in the only remaining area of Santa Monica that is not already densely developed. It also encourages the extension and use of development agreements elsewhere in the city so that developers can reap more profits than current zoning allows.
Since this ordinance was enacted, we have seen how it actively promotes the inappropriate use of development agreements. Major developers with property in the LMSD/M1 are using these agreements to seek approval of massive projects that greatly exceed current zoning. Such agreements may also contravene our existing, outmoded General Plan. Because development agreements now constitute the planning tool "du jour," the city currently has 4 such large-scale projects in the planning phase individually seeking "float ups" followed by development agreements, each of which would fundamentally degrade the quality of life and create major additional traffic congestion for the city as a whole.
This entire process is inherently piecemeal because it allows each developer to be concerned only with its parcel development, not the cumulative impacts of all other developments proposed for the area as a whole. The absence of a ratified LUCE and a current General Plan only render this ordinance more defective because what's required is the result of individual negotiations, without the benefit of an accepted community-wide plan.
Of great concern, we also now see development agreements being used to destroy our dwindling supply of affordable housing for our most vulnerable residents (Village Trailer Park, 301 San Vicente Blvd) and replacing them with market-rate projects.
Approving these types of agreements rewards developers who tear down the very housing we desperately need. We're concerned that while city officials give lip service to the need to preserve our housing stock, development agreements are financially incentivizing developers who want to destroy it.
For all of these reasons, we urge the Council to "sunset" this ordinance now and to free up the planning department to finish the LUCE and update the related zoning and overall General Plan. In the interim, a moratorium on the LMSD/MI should be imposed.
If the Council won't impose a moratorium, we urge that the ordinance then include specific language that makes it clear that developers who apply for development agreements under this ordinance will not receive approvals by the City until the LUCE, zoning laws and General Plan are finalized and it is determined that such development agreements are consistent with them.