To keep Santa Monica residents better informed of upcoming developments, the City Council directed City staff to look into increasing the minimum area of notification for residents affected by proposed developments, especially larger projects.
With the recommendation, greater numbers of residents living in within a larger radius of where forthcoming proposed development will be carried out are expected to have sufficient notice of such projects. Under current guidelines, only those living within a 500-foot radius of where a developments are to be carried out are notified of the upcoming project; staff recommended the radius be increased to at least 1,000 feet.
“We have heard here at council, and I have heard myself when I was on the Planning Commission, testimony from neighbors who have said that they did not know of a hearing until the last minute,” said City Council member Terry O’Day, who brought the item before the council. “I suspect that a number of those folks who testified as much may believe they are within the notification radius but aren’t.”
The Council also directed staff to consider increasing notification requirements for projects exceeding an established threshold, in terms of size of project and potentially greater impact to residents within a larger radius, as well as those with Development Agreements (DAs) – which are agreed to when a developer requests to build a project with parameters that are outside the City’s zoning standards (such as building height) in exchange for more public benefits than are normally required, such as more parking, affordable housing, or open spaces.
Residents who spoke about the proposed expansion of notification radius were pleased overall with O’Day’s recommendation, yet were worried of potentially increased costs of notifying additional people via snail mail. Accordingly, it was requested of Council members to post notifications on the City’s website.
Residents also requested the City specifically notify all neighborhood groups of proposed developments. Additionally speakers ask the council enact an adjustable radius based upon the size of the project and development agreement. Specifically, residents had hoped certain projects affecting the entire City should require notification to all residents.
“We have looked at it, and our belief is that 1,000 feet is probably an appropriate radius,” said Eileen Fogarty, director of Planning and Community Development.
Fogarty also addressed resident concerns of printing costs for increased notification procedures, though neither her nor the council specified the exact costs involved. “We have looked at printing costs, and we can probably absorb the printing costs in our budget. The postage cost is a chunk,” she said. “One of the things that we have not done is talk to the City attorney about adding the cost onto the application.”
Still, the Council moved forward with its staff direction to consider an increase of the radius of sufficient notification from 500 feet to 1,000 feet.
“At the current 500-foot distance, which is less than a single north-south block in Santa Monica, you can live on the same block as a proposed project and not get notice,” Council member Kevin McKeown said during the discussion on the dais. “At least (this recommendation) will take care of that immediate problem.
“I think there were a lot of great ideas about alternative ways to get information out, but I still think the old tried and true direct mail is a crucially important to make sure the people who don’t have email, don’t have Web access, know what’s going to happen right near them.”
Planning Commissioner Ted Winterer still urged for the addition of electronic notification, pointing out there are very real and practical instances where a local citizen directly affected by a proposed development agreement may not be notified until after a hearing despite receiving a hard copy of the notification via U.S. Mail.
“It shouldn’t be too hard to assemble a list of these various meetings people are interested in knowing about,” Winterer told the council, suggesting such a list be made available on the City’s Website. “The reality is we’re all busy, if you have a P.O. Box you get down there once week … (maybe) the meeting already happened. To the extent we use electronic communications to (alert the community) of these meetings, it would be beneficial to everyone involved.”