Concerns about the fast-paced development of large single room occupancy (SRO) projects prompted Santa Monica’s City Council to vote unanimously for an emergency interim ordinance to change the threshold for their review.
The April 24 Council action means that any project in the City which exceeds 50 units in size will have to go through a review by the City’s Planning Commission in order to receive a development review permit. However, exemptions for affordable housing projects that are less than 50 units will still be permitted.
City Planning Director Eileen Fogarty told the Council that “more than half the development in the City is taking place in the form of SROs,” and the impact is not being evaluated by the City planning process because the City does not have an appropriate process for large, dense projects. Currently, they are being approved administratively.
Developer Neil Shehkter, who has already submitted his 100 percent affordable 623-unit SRO project for 3025 Olympic Boulevard in the City’s light manufacturing district, objected to the ordinance. He pointed out the new ordinance could jeopardize his project and should only apply to projects that haven’t already been processed by the City.
Shehkter also reminded the Council that his company, MSN Properties, is “the only [for profit] company that brings affordable housing to this City 100 percent.” All other affordable housing has been built by nonprofits, or has been a small percentage of market-rate projects.
Shehkter’s lawyer, Ben Resnick, questioned whether an emergency really existed in the legal sense because that calls for “preserving the public, health, safety and welfare.” He also questioned whether the ordinance was really aimed [specifically] at his client’s project” and raised the issue as to whether this ordinance “might violate the state statute density law for low-income housing.”
Mayor Pro Tem Herb Katz, who along with Councilmember Robert Holbrook sponsored the ordinance, stated the need for urgency involved “the quality of life in our City” that can quickly become impacted negatively by a large project.
Holbrook echoed Katz by mentioning his concern about whether the City would have enough police and fire personnel to support the residents in large projects without a discretionary review.
Councilmember Kevin McKeown told his colleagues, “Consistency is the servant of good planning,” and that consistency Citywide in the discretionary review process would help “ensure the safety that people expect.”