(Editor’s note: A short glossary of terms pertaining to this development process is included at the end of this article.)
Venice, West of Lincoln (the Venice Coastal Zone, is approximately 2.5% of Council District 11's total area. In CD11, there are 35 low income/assisted living developments of 15 units or more. 32 of these developments lie in the 2.5% of CD11 that is in the Venice Coastal Zone.
Additionally, in the 8 years Mike Bonin served as council representative for CD11, there were no significant market rate developments in Venice in the Coastal Zone. However, 5 new major low income/assisted living projects were approved. These include the 44 units at Lincoln Apartments, the 98 units at Thatcher Yard, the 33 units at the former Ramada Inn and the in process 140 units at the Venice Median.
Of the 3 remaining undeveloped large parcels in Venice, two were, during Mr. Bonin’s tenure, dedicated to low income/assisted living projects. The only remaining significant parcel, the Metro Bus Yard, began a development process with an extensive community outreach process that then went dark in late 2019/the beginning of 2020.
Mr. Bonin sat on the Metro board throughout his tenure as CD11 councilperson and only left the board a few months ago as a new councilperson, Traci Park, succeeded in defeating Mr. Bonin’s chosen successor, Erin Darling, in the CD11 council race. Rumors that Mr. Bonin had been using his influence on the Metro board to steer the development have been circulating widely in the community for years.
Into this context, Wells Lawson, the MTA director of joint development, attended a shared VNC LUPC/Homeless Committee meeting last Thursday, March 9th. to provide the community with an update on the development agreement’s progress, the first such update in over 3 years.
Mr. Lawson started out his verbal presentation by stating that the “we work with private developers to realize community vision for a site.” He then reiterated that, “our big goals are number one to support that community vision.”
He added, however, that, “We also do have an increasingly intense mandate upon us to encourage housing for diverse income levels all the way from 0% of the area median income up to 120%.”
Lawson explained that in 2016, with Mike Bonin leading the charge directing staff to determine a permanent use for the site, the MTA began a process of community outreach seeking to convert the community's feedback into guidelines for the development.
Those guidelines were adopted in 2019, and, according to Mr. Lawson, “those guidelines were attached to a RFIQ (Request for Interest and Qualifications) from developers, in 2019.” In June 2019, Mr. Lawson explained Metro intended to release its RFP (Request for Proposals) to a short list of developers. However, Lawson went on to explain, “The State Surplus Land Act was amended which raised important and complicated legal issues....so we were in a freeze mode trying to resolve that for nearly a year.”
Mr. Lawson then explained that the updated timeline for the process to be restarted would have the MTA releasing the RFP to the developers this month, March. He added, “We’d have the responses coming back and evaluate them in the summer. That would allow us to come back to the Metro board with a recommendation for a developer in the fall.” The community, he said, could expect to hear from the developer in the spring of 2024.
“That would allow us to break ground on the project in 2026......so that means the move-in date would be 2028 for the new residents.”
Mr. Lawson then took questions from the community. In response to a question from Sandy Bleifer asking when the community would know who the developers on the short list were, Mr. Lawson responded that, “We have contacted the developers in December 2020, but ... we’re still in blackout, so I can’t tell you who they are...because we haven’t finished the solicitation.”
Mr. Lawson continued, apparently unaware that he was directly contradicting something he had said only moments before, when he told Ms. Bleifer, “The developers will be announced in the summer, probably earlier. Probably. I’m just trying to think, probably as early as May or April. That’s the short list. You’ll see the shortlisted developer and the selected developer at that time.” Mr. Lawson then went on saying “Actually, I shouldn’t have spoken, said May. It’s June when what I’m trying to determine is when the 5 shortlisted developers would be identified.”
And under questioning from Helen Fallon as to when the public would have input into the project and see what the proposals look like, Mr. Lawson offered that, “You cannot go into public procurement without going into blackout. The people who are making the selection of the developer can’t be influenced. When we select a developer just to remind you. It’s selecting a developer. There’s still a project to work out with the community. We haven’t committed ourselves to a project.”
When asked for some specifics about the number of units, the size of the units, project budget and maintenance costs, Mr. Lawson replied that it would probably be a number of years until we were clear on answering a number of those questions, leaving the audience wondering whether these questions would be answered before the project broke ground in 2026, 3 years from now.
I then asked Mr. Lawson why the blackout period had lasted over 3 years and was still not over, and Mr. Lawson explained that the issues of legality that arose in 2020 had caused the delay, apparently forgetting that he had said in his presentation that it had only taken a year to resolve those issues.
And on my follow up question as to why the period between releasing the short list of developers and the selected developer would now be so short, Mr. Lawson replied, “I think on the one I just misspoke. The blackout period exists from the time you issue the RFIQ until you bring a recommended developer to the board. The short list will not be known to the public until the Board meeting is noticed. You’re right. It’s like the same time and in the same notice. These are the shortlisted developers and this is the recommended developer.”
And in response to my asking why the target for low income subsidized housing had changed during the blackout from a 35% target for low income subsidized housing to a 100% target, Mr. Lawson explained that this change was in the Metro joint development policy for all sites and was not specific to the Metro Yard. As to the 35 versus 100 “the policy states that we will pursue projects to 100% affordable except for larger sites. This is a larger site.”
Lauren Siegel asked what determines the mixture of low income to other income units, and Mr. Lawson said, “I believe we’re scoring on the deepest levels of affordability. So developers that offer more affordable units and deeper levels of affordability will score higher.”
By the end of the meeting, Mr. Lawson seemed to have allowed the community a peek into his bureaucratic black box, but succeeded in raising far more questions than he answered. The Current will be doing follow up articles on the MTA’s development plans for this historic, seminally important community asset.
Metro Joint Development Guidelines Program (2016) - These are general guidelines that apply to all Metro’s joint development programs. The 2016 guidelines were applicable when the “community driven guidelines” for the Metro Yard were being formulated in 20118-19.
Joint Development Guidelines for the Venice Metro Yard (June 2019) - Metro has represented that the Metro Yard would be a community driven development process. The outreach efforts of 2018-19 were intended to establish the guidelines that would guide the development through completion. These were completed in 2019 and are posted on the LUPC website beside the agenda for the March 9th meeting.
RFIQ (Request for Interest and Qualifications) (December 2019) - A request for interest in the Metro development was made public in 2019 and all interested parties were required to respond to this document. Metro has stated that only the qualifications of developers were being assessed at this point in the process, but the document itself clearly asks for detailed development concepts and 2 pages of sample images representative of the developer’s vision. The document also diverges in critical areas from the community consensus that arose from outreach meetings. In one important instance, the community’s clearly stated preference that the development be focused on middle class housing was committed and a goal of supplying low income housing was instead listed as one of the 4 primary objectives of the program.
Developer Short List (Not Yet Released) - The MTA received 7 applications and stated that 5 applicants were short listed in December of 2020. The list has yet to be released.
RFP (Request For Proposals) (Not Yet Issued) - This document will ask the developers to provide a concrete development plan. The MTA targeted June 2020 for the release of this document to developers. The document has still not been released.
*The community will not have access to the RFP and the community will not have input or be involved in the review of the developer’s proposals. The final developer selection will be made without community involvement.