Lengthy discussions on the dais and public debates at Santa Monica’s bi-weekly City Council meetings are generally saved for ordinances or study sessions. By the time City Council meetings reach the number 13 on the agenda, it would be safe to presume adjournment is just around the corner.
Such was not the case June 11 when City Clerk Sarah Gorman called item 13-C.
When Gorman announced there were 61 speakers in the queue to address the council, it was immediately apparent adjournment was not quite as close as one would expect midway through the 13 items.
Indeed, a council meeting already more than three hours deep would continue on for nearly three more hours to debate and discuss the Downtown Specific Plan, Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE), and height restrictions in Santa Monica’s downtown core.
Generally, an issue brought up during the “Council Member Discussion Items” portion of the agenda to give City staff direction of what to do, such as draft an ordinance or study a particular matter.
At the June 11 meeting, Council members Kevin McKeown, Tony Vazquez, and Ted Winterer sponsored a discussion item requesting their colleagues to direct staff to slow down the public process for proposed developments who seek to build projects higher than 84 feet, or six stories.
The direction was shot down, as the trio who sponsored the discussion item could not muster support from another colleague.
Those who opposed the staff direction argued worried the public review process might actually be limited should certain projects be delayed.
McKeown said during the meeting and in an email afterwards the intent of the staff direction was ensure the timing of how the process played out would be properly executed and enforced.
While such intent may likely result in certain projects being delayed by a few months, McKeown argued they delay would be countered by the fair tradeoff of good governance.
Indeed, McKeown stated the intent of the motion was “to give the public confidence that we are first looking at the downtown holistically before approving individual projects.”
A key element of the debate was the Downtown Specific Plan. McKeown, Vazquez, and Winterer urged for greater patience – especially with respect to opportunity sites – so that developments could properly sync up with the Downtown Specific Plan, which is still being formulated and is expected to be considered by council members as early as March 2014.
McKeown explained in an email after the June 11 meeting the significance of being patient with current developments on tap and waiting until the Downtown Specific Plan is fully fleshed out.
“The Downtown Specific Plan will include in its review the opportunity sites, and it is entirely possible that the DSP will require rethinking of one or more of the tower projects as currently proposed. Right now, none is so far along that such rethinking should be impossible,” McKeown wrote in his email. “My intent, along with my colleagues Ted and Tony, was to keep us from backing ourselves into a situation where we have a project with approval momentum that does not match what the community decides it wants in the Downtown Specific Plan.”
However, the status quo remains and the current public review process for development agreements remains in place.
The Mirror will delve deeper into this debate in next week’s issue.