Santa Monica’s City Council has directed City staff “to expeditiously” develop an “incentive-based standards plan” in order to help protect the City’s land use authority if Proposition 90 passes in November’s election.
Proposition 90, the Anderson Initiative on eminent domain, would, according to a City staff report, “impose new restrictions and costs on all state and local agencies’ ability to enact and enforce land use planning, zoning, environmental, consumer and other laws and regulations.” This could impact the City’s ability to downzone, limit building heights and scale as well as City density. If approved by voters in November it will take effect immediately. All laws in effect at the time of its passage would be exempt.
Voter consideration of Proposition 90 is coming at a time when the City is in the midst of updating its Land Use and Circulation Elements of its General Plan. The land use element delineates the distribution of different types of buildings (housing, business, industry, open space, etc.) while the circulation element sets out the location of existing and proposed roads, highways, and other modes of transportation. The zoning ordinance translates the land use element’s goals and objectives into standards and procedures. They were last updated in 1984.
The City staff report suggested several ways to handle the issues that would occur if Proposition 90 passes. The Council as well as the those community members who spoke supported the incentive-based standards which would help protect the areas of Santa Monica that are currently unprotected; the multi-family districts and commercial boulevards. The staff report states these standards would “retain maximum build-out potential in each residential district for a discrete list of land uses, such as affordable housing. Other uses, such as market rate housing, could be developed to a specified threshold set by Council. For instance in the R4 District, this threshold could be two stories and 30 feet with a unit density of one unit for each 1,500 square feet of parcel area, instead of the current standard of four stories and 45 feet with a unit density of one unit for each 900 square feet of parcel area. A similar approach could be applied to the commercial boulevards. Alternatively, commercial projects could be evaluated for compatibility through a discretionary review process.”
Councilmember Kevin McKeown stated these standards will “preserve our community’s options in keeping with the Land Use and Circulation Element process the public has participated in. It’s about retaining our Santa Monica jurisdictional zoning power.”
The other alternative suggested by City staff was average-based standards, which would have allowed “development that is consistent with the average height and density of other existing improvements within a specified geographic area, such as one city block. As with the other proposal, commercial and residential standards could have the same structure or approach, or commercial projects could be evaluated through discretionary review.”
The Council heard from several speakers before their unanimous vote. Dennis Zane who is the co-chair of Santa Monicans For Renters Rights, stressed, “Proposition 90 is a genuine threat to the ability of this community and every California community to plan their future.” He then recommended, “Affordable housing should be the most incentivized.”
Representatives from both the Wilshire/Montana Neighborhood Coalition and the Friends of Sunset Park urged the Council to use the incentive-based standards.
The only speaker that didn’t like the incentives was resident Gale Feldman. She told the Council the “staff recommendation doesn’t address the threat of Proposition 90. The incentive based standards may create loopholes for developers for maximum build out potential for a specific zone.”
City staff will now analyze the economic viability of the incentives including those for mixed-use projects in commercial zones, projects that provide child care, transit passes and on-site car sharing and return with their finds for Council review and action.