Having read City Councilman Kevin McKeown’s ’Point of View’ in the 2/8/06 Mirror titled “Inclusionary Housing: Who Gets Included,” I wish to point out the hypocrisy contained in his explanation as to why housing prices are so high in Santa Monica. Expectedly, in McKeown’s opinion, it’s all the fault of private greedy developers and rich people. For those of you with short memories, however, allow me to remind you of just some of the policy decisions made by McKeown’s City Council that created unaffordable housing in Santa Monica. In the early 1990’s, the City Council created an incentive zone along Olympic Boulevard Corridor solely for film entertainment uses to stimulate real estate activity along what was previously an industrial area. These incentives were only for film-production related businesses. Soon, production-type facilites began to appear along Olympic Blvd. For some unexplained reason, City Council members never realized that with the preponderance of film production and back-office facilities, the executives of those companies would soon relocate to be near their businesses. Not long after, Santa Monica was soon described by the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere as “Hollywood by the Sea.” (This was about the time residents began to observe black Armani-clad studio execs driving black BMWs while talking on the phone.) The influx of movie and television entertainment executives caused an immediate upsurge in housing prices. One of my pet peeves with Kevin McKeown’s City Council is that they don’t think like the rest of us; meaning, they hadn’t a clue as to the floodgates they were opening by subsidizing the film industry. Of course, we now know the City Council does not share the interests of long-time residents – safe and modern schools, clean parks, flowing traffic. McKeown’s City Council wanted the things the film industry’s money and cache could bring – dining hot spots, film festivals, Oscar parties – all of which produce sales tax and fee revenue. In short order, McKeown and his ilk turned our town into a commercial destination, replete with clogged traffic, overpriced restaurants and boutiques, more than a dozen Starbuck’s, and alas, unaffordable housing. What a surprise!The difficulties of securing government approval and constructing improvements in Santa Monica have been well-documented by this newspaper. Everyone has heard personal war stories of the bureaucracy and red tape at City Hall. It’s not unusual for it to take three years to acquire such approval for a single-family home.For over 25 years, Santa Monicans like Kevin have enjoyed the fruits of rent control, which has allowed baby boomers like him to live along the Pacific Ocean at minimal expense. Why a middle-aged single man capable of supporting himself should be subsidized by a mom & pop landlord is beyond common sense. Now, Kevin would like to see those 30% of Santa Monica residents who are homeowners subsidize additional residents who would not be able to live in Santa Monica otherwise. Renters like Kevin do not pay property taxes, which support our schools, libraries, parks, police and fire protection and quality of life. In fact, as a City Council member, Kevin receives free health insurance (he also voted for free health insurance for rent control commissioners which was defeated by voters), and he is employed by the Santa Monica school district as a consultant, so he never has to commute outside of town (try driving the Santa Monica Freeway during rush hour). So while the rest of us commute to work five days a week, pay our own health insurance and strive to pay hefty mortgage payments and property taxes, Kevin enjoys the fruits of our collective labor, the 30% of Santa Monicans who own their home.Unfortunately, people like Kevin, whose homes (and health insurance) are subsidized by others, cannot see the relationship between rent control and high housing prices for those who do not live in rent-controlled units. Rent control provides a disincentive to earning more income and moving; witness the large number of never-married, middle-aged persons living in rent controlled units. (Santa Monica has twice the number of single persons than the California average, which is significantly higher than the National average.) With low turnover, there is a diminished supply of apartments, which in turn increases the price of those units available. Many landlords faced with the prospect of continued low rents, choose to convert their properties to condominiums, which of course results in an even smaller supply of apartments, which drives rents up further. An affluent minority will not indefinitely continue to subsidize others with a sense of entitlement. The middle class is not being forced out of Santa Monica by gentrification, as Kevin (and others like him) would like to believe. We are leaving because of overcrowded and unsafe schools, horrendous and stupefying traffic and pervasive homelessness. In this regard, it is not surprising that other than possibly Christine Reid, no other Santa Monica politician that has gone on to higher elective office. Because the housing and economic policies of Kevin McKeown are unsustainable, I fear for the welfare and future of Santa Monica. Times will not always be so prosperous; all good things must come to an end. My personal fear is that a verdict or court judgement against Santa Monica regarding the City’s negligence in the Farmers’ Market tragedy will be a sort of wake-up call to its citizens. In the meantime, Kevin and his sense of entitlement continue to maintain control of City Hall.
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