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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

November 3, 2016 -- It’s called “the list,” a compilation of proposed building projects being tracked by City planners, or all plans in Santa Monica's development pipeline.

Last updated on October 18, the case list from the City’s Planning and Community Development Department is composed of 39 projects totaling nearly 3.8 million square feet, according to a review by the Lookout.

The tracking list has significant ramifications as Santa Monica voters next Tuesday decide the fate of Measure LV, which gives voters -- not the City Council -- final approval of most new buildings taller than 32 feet.

All but a handful of the proposed projects are tall enough to be potentially impacted by LV.

"With the updated and accurate list now available, we can all take a deep breath and back away from exaggerations born of incomplete information," Council member Kevin McKeown, a slow-growth advocate who opposes LV, told the Lookout.

"We have choices to make among proposals, but there are fewer than some have feared, and many are simply housing downtown, most of which will be delayed until we finish the Downtown Community Plan," McKeown said.

The plan -- which provides a blueprint for future development downtown -- was delayed in March after more than six years in the works ("Vote on Santa Monica Downtown Plan Delayed Yet Again," March 31, 2016).

For backers of LV, the story is in the math -- a total of 3,786,501 square feet or the equivalent of seven new Santa Monica Place malls. The list, they say, shows that the council has lost control of development.

“It’s a tremendous amount (of development) for a city of only eight square miles that is already built out,” said Diana Gordon of the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC), one of the city's two slow-growth groups.

“The City Council is deciding potentially high-impact projects one by one, rewriting the rules each time for favored developers,” Gordon said. “There’s no planning discipline in sight. That is why people are frustrated.”

More than half of all the proposed projects on the list exceed existing building limits, thus requiring development agreements with the council before being built, according to the Lookout review.

The 22 projects needing development agreements include a trio of high-rise hotels near the oceanfront downtown and a nearby 12-story “mixed-use” plaza that encompasses more than 2.3 acres owned by the City. The four projects account for approximately 1.5 million square feet and include a total of 864 new or rebuilt hotel rooms.

Aside from the four Downtown projects, the list is mainly comprised of multi-family housing complexes. Most of them range from four to eight stories and typically replace older one- or two-story buildings and their surface parking lots.

Five of the 39 projects are inactive “and likely to be withdrawn,” said David Martin, the City's director of Planning and Community Development.

All proposed development on the list (active and inactive) represents a 20 percent increase from 2014, according to the Lookout review. This is largely due to the inclusion of the major expansion and rebuilding of Providence Saint John’s Health Center, approved via development agreement in 1998.

The hospital’s $2 billion, 799,000-square-foot plan was designed in the wake of 1994’s damaging Northridge earthquake and was reinserted in the City's pipeline this spring when developers sought more time to obtain building permits.

The redevelopment project will take at least 25 years to complete, hospital officials have said.

According to the Lookout's review, new multi-family units far outpace commercial uses, such as office space or hotel rooms. In all, 1,875 apartments are included, a reflection of Santa Monica’s efforts to alleviate a housing shortage shared with the rest of metropolitan Los Angeles.

Of the total units, 15 percent are designated “affordable,” or half of the City's voter approved quota of 30 percent, although many projects on the list do not yet address the issue.

Also in the pipeline are slightly more than 200 proposed condominiums. Most of them are part of the three “mixed use” hotels proposed downtown.

Of the 22 mixed-use apartment complexes proposed, ten are downtown, yielding 543 new units, the Lookout review found. Six are on Lincoln Boulevard.

The construction of residential units downtown is part of a two-decades-old effort to build housing in the City's central business district, a plan that has added 2,677 new housing units, most of then rentals, according to downtown officials.

The median rent for apartments was $1,962, or a jump of almost 12 percent from 2015, officials said. The vacancy rate was 2 percent ("Downtown Santa Monica Becoming Urban Core of the Future," August 23, 2016).

The rest of the apartment buildings proposed are scattered near transportation hubs, including the Bergamot District near one of the City's three new Expo light rail stations and on the site of the 57-year-old bowling alley on Pico Boulevard near the new rail station Downtown.

Other housing projects are proposed for Wilshire Boulevard, and two others are on Santa Monica's oceanfront, replacing a vacant lot and surface parking near the Casa de Mar Hotel at the western end of Pico Boulevard.

Parking for new projects would be located underground, with subterranean garages capable of accommodating at least 4,800 vehicles.

Some of the plans on the list date back years. But half of them have been submitted (or in some cases re-filed) since the council in June of 2105 approved the City's zoning update, which is meant to work with the 2010 Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) ("Santa Monica's Much Debated Development Standards Take Effect this Month," July 1, 2015).

A dozen of the projects that have not been withdrawn require a less onerous approval process called a “development" review. In those cases, the Planning Commission signs off on the project, although its decision can be appealed to the City Council.

Based on council direction, other than two housing DAs associated with the Fire Station No. 1 land exchange, none of the development agreements in downtown are moving forward until the Downtown Community Plan is completed, according to Martin’s status report to the council earlier this month.

According to the list, two mixed-use apartment projects -- one at 1430 Lincoln Boulevard and the other at 1325 6th Street -- head to the Planning Commission December 10.

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