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Councilwoman's Snake Metaphor Explains Lots of Development

Santa Monica City Councilwoman Gleam Davis talks about development in terms of a snake and a mouse. So, who's the snake?

The city has itself to thank for the recent flood of development agreement applications, councilwoman Gleam Davis said Tuesday night.

A few years ago, she said, city leaders asked developers to hold off on proposing new projects until Santa Monica had in place a new long-term planning guide. Davis said the adoption of the plan 2 ½ years ago, called the Land Use and Circulation Element, opened the floodgates to a backlog of applications. 

"We’re like the snake that ate the mouse and then the mouse got too fat… we swallowed it," Davis said. "Now we’re digesting it.”

Councilman Kevin McKeown said he would need "brain bleach" to erase the memory of the metaphor.

The comments came as the City Council discussed the number of development agreement applications currently under review. The number grew Tuesday to 34. As recently as mid-December, the number was 26.

It "exceeds the number of applications we’ve seen over the years going back to the 70s, when the city first started doing [development agreements]," said city planner David Martin.

Though, as in McKeown's words, there's been a "glut" of applications, city planners estimated it would take 5-15 years for all of the projects to be built if they are eventually approved. (Since the LUCE was adopted, the City Council has approved eight development agreements: Agensys, St. Monica's, Seventh Street and Arizona Avenue, Colorado Creative Studios, 710 Wilshire and 401 Broadway.)

Martin said the adoption of new zoning codes in the coming months would probably result in fewer projects needing to obtain development agreements.

The agreements give developers the rights to build beyond the city's size and zoning restrictions in exchange for providing "community benefits," like money to fund street improvements.

Adopted in the summer of 2010, Santa Monica's Land Use and Circulation Element established a system of tiers to regulate development in most parts of the city. The first tier allows projects to be built without City Council approval if they meet a base height and floor area ratio. The higher the tier, the bigger and denser a developer can build if it's willing to provide the so-called community benefits.

Under the existing interim ordinance, Tier 1 limits projects to 7,500 square feet. Projects that exceed that size fall under tiers 2 and 3 and require development agreements, as do projects over 32 feet tall in downtown.

"We’ve created the opportunity for too many development agreements," said Santa Monica-based architect David Hibbert.

Hibbert is currently working on a proposal for a Mini Cooper dealership at 1400 Santa Monica Blvd., a project that requires a development agreement. "It's only slighter bigger than the Whole Foods we did on Wilshire Boulevard that was approved" by city staffers without a development agreement before the adoption of LUCE, he said.

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Fred Alexander January 09, 2013 at 10:44 PM
We need a thousand residents to march on the City Council, enough is enough with all the planned building. Anyone care to organize it?
Brenda Barnes January 09, 2013 at 11:53 PM
We at Village Trailer Park would love to organize it. We have a community room available 24/7 for meetings--holds 50, free parking. We're getting a wifi connection this week. What else should we do? Once my husband and I organized a community meeting in Las Vegas by sending postcards to all the residents of an area affected, using free labels we got from a title company through a real estate broker. Do they still do that? We've picketed in front of the Park 5:30-6:30 M-Th since May 10, because the rush hour traffic is so slow due to all the construction the Council has approved since 1980, not just recently. People start honking to support us now when we show up, before we even unfurl our banner saying, "Santa Monica City Sells Out Village to Developers." I think we can hand out flyers showing where these DAs would add what and get people to sign up on petitions and database lists to come out.
Claudia Schafer January 10, 2013 at 03:40 AM
The snake metaphor is great glimpse into the hearts and minds of those City Council members. Is it too late to impeach them on the variety of aforementioned counts?
Fred Alexander January 10, 2013 at 05:29 PM
We need to cotact a grassroots organization with a large email base such as Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City ( SMCLC,) perhaps they would be interested in forming the march on City Hall with the press notified of the event. Speaking to the City Council is a waste of time.
Dan Charney January 27, 2013 at 03:44 AM
Well said Claudia- that is what they are - the developers and most of the council- and many planners- we need to get this ball rolling to recall them and stop this-

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