With a 5 to 2 vote, Santa Monica’s City Council made the commitment to continue to support fast-tracking the construction of affordable housing.
The ordinance approved by the Council Tuesday evening will make permanent provisions contained in a temporary ordinance that has been in effect for the last four years. These provisions, according to the City staff report, exempt “100 percent affordable rental housing projects (including some mixed-use housing projects) of not more than 50 units from Development Review in the multi-family districts and the Conditional Use Permit requirement in the Main Street Special Commercial (CM), Special Office Commercial (C5) and Industrial Conservation (M1) districts.”
Input from the community reflected two views. Zina Josephs, president of the board of Friends of Sunset Park, expressed the view of those who opposed making the ordinance permanent. “The City is currently sending the message to residents that it wants to facilitate and increase public participation and make the decision-making processes more transparent. This recommendation seems to be taking us in the opposite direction towards less public participation and decisions made behind closed doors,” said Josephs.
Those who support affordable housing and retaining the City’s diversity had a different opinion. Former mayor and Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights co-chair Denny Zane told the Council to support the ordinance because “this measure does not eliminate public review but it will streamline the process and create predictability for affordable housing in our community.” A difficult and lengthy review process can cause “a loss of funding” and stop affordable housing projects. It is not the case with market rate housing.
Councilmember Kevin McKeown summed up the Council’s support for making the ordinance permanent by stating since 1990 the Council has “struggled with how to produce more affordable housing. Unfortunately, all housing construction is not fairly competitive. In a City like Santa Monica, with scarce and very expensive land, we’d be giving even more preference to high-end housing and all but preclude affordable housing production if we didn’t have this policy in place.” The policy has been in place for four years and there is “much public process involved.”
Councilmember Robert Holbrook expressed the minority Council view. He stressed, “50-unit projects are just too big to be exempt from the public review process. It bothers me that decisions on these projects can’t be appealed to the Council. “The public can weigh in at the beginning [of the development process] but there’s no reason why the developer has to listen to the public.” The main thing is that the developer has to get an approval from the City’s Architectural Review Board. Once that is accomplished, there is no recourse for the community. Councilmember Bobby Shriver agreed with Holbrook and also voted not to make the ordinance permanent.