Santa Monica’s Planning Commission voted unanimously on December 6 to support a text amendment that would exempt 100 percent affordable housing projects of not more than 50 units from Development Review in all multi-family districts, and Conditional Use Permits in the Main Street Special Commercial District (CM), the Special Office Commercial District (C5) and the Industrial Conservation District (M1).
The amendment was considered now because the interim ordinance including these provisions is set to expire in March of 2007. The City’s definition of affordable housing is “housing in which 100 percent of the dwelling units are deed-restricted or restricted by agreements approved by the City for occupancy by households with incomes of 80 percent of median income or less.” Affordable housing developers would benefit from the “fast tracking” of the City’s discretionary review process because it would save them a lot of time and money. These benefits should give them more of an incentive to build such housing.
City Associate Planner Peter James emphasized during his staff report, “The removal of the discretionary review process [if the City Council approves the text amendment] for these projects would not necessarily eliminate the opportunity for the community to express their concerns about a particular project.” Two community design workshops would still be required with developers for projects that are receiving City funding. In addition, all of these projects would still have to be reviewed by the City’s Architectural Review Board (ARB).
Most of the community input supported the amendment. Community Corporation of Santa Monica (a builder of affordable housing) board member Patricia Hoffman told the Commission, “I support the amendment. The policy question before you is do you want to create a policy roadblock that constrains the production of the affordable housing or do you want to carry out the City and people’s goals of facilitating affordable housing?”
Those who opposed the fast-tracking did so due to concerns about restricting public input on the projects. Sunset Park resident Zina Josephs stated her opposition: “I’m not opposed to speeding up the process but it seems as if we’re deleting part of the process alltogether. If these are publicly-funded projects there should be public hearings for people to speak out at, not just community workshops.”
After receiving the community input, Commissioner Terry O’Day expressed his support for the amendment by stressing, “We have to balance the interests as described in CEQA [the California Environmental Quality Act] with our urgent need for affordable housing. Affordable housing doesn’t happen in our community unless we provide this incentive.”
The Chair of the Commission, Gwynne Pugh, said having more affordable housing would help address the City’s jobs/housing imbalance, which has been “exacerbated at the affordable housing and workforce end of the spectrum.”Commissioner Julie Lopez-Dad pledged her support by noting, “This is not only doing what we can, it’s doing what we must. We have a choice here to encourage prejudice. That is when we can’t have poor people scattered throughout the community. Or we can encourage diversity. I’m for encouraging diversity.”