After years of study and discussion, Santa Monica’s City Council took a major step last Tuesday by approving, with a 5 to 1 vote, an ordinance that will charge developers the highest fees in the state so that childcare facilities in the City can be increased.
According to the City staff report, a study prepared by consultant Keyser Marston Associates found a “direct link between development and the demand for childcare services in Santa Monica.” These new fees will “provide funds to increase the number of childcare spaces in Santa Monica in direct relation to the need created by new development.”
Patty Obalah, the Chair of the Santa Monica Childcare and Early Education Task Force, applauded the vote by noting this has been a “major goal of the Task Force for a very long time.”
However, not everyone on the Council was comfortable with the new fees. Mayor Robert Holbrook opposed the ordinance because he believes the “fees are just too high. They are three to five times higher than any other city in California. I don’t think Santa Monica needs to be on the leading edge of everything.” He also was opposed to having a fee for this purpose on residential development.
Mayor Pro Tem Bobby Shriver also expressed his concerns by stating “being 500 percent higher than everyone else in the State of California is a pretty aggressive posture…it’s a little nervous-making for me.” But in the end, he supported it after hearing from the other Council members who favored it.
Councilmember Richard Bloom explained to Shriver that he was taking “some comfort from the fact at least he hadn’t received a single e-mail or single letter” opposing the fees. In addition, “There hasn’t been anyone here tonight from the development community complaining that these fees are somehow onerous.”
Another explanation in favor of the fees was given by Councilmember Ken Genser when he stressed, “If we don’t charge these fees then we’re not going to have sufficient childcare facilities in the City or we’re going to have to subsidize childcare facilities with public dollars, and I think it’s fair that the people creating the impact should cover the costs.”
The threshold for the new fees will be 7,500 feet for commercial, multi-family projects and hotels, and they will be adjusted annually for inflation. The square foot fee for office space will be $5.27, for retail the fee will be $3.77 and for hotels it will be $2.64. The fee for residential units will be $111 per unit, however affordable and senior housing projects will be exempt.
City officials expect the fees collected during the first five years will be used for a childcare facility in the Civic Center.
In other action, the Council gave its unanimous approval to an ordinance that will raise the number of hotel rooms that can be added to any existing hotel in the City’s R2 and R3 districts from five percent to 25 percent based upon what existed on January 1, 1995. The Oceana Hotel, which wants to add additional rooms through the division of their existing rooms, proposed the modification.
The Council also approved more restrictive parking regulations for Zone N, which is bounded by 19th Street, Santa Monica Boulevard, 14th Street, and Wilshire Boulevard. The new regulations will mean parking will only be allowed by permit Monday – Saturday 9 a.m.-2 a.m. and Sunday 3 p.m.-2 a.m.
Finally, the Council voted to support Councilmember Pam O’Connor’s reappointment to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Board as the Southwest Corridor representative.