Mixed-use apartments coming to Ocean Front Walk, Ocean Avenue
By Cailley Chella
Two hotly debated Santa Monica developments got the go-ahead on Tuesday, April 23
Santa Monica City Council denied appeals by South Ocean Avenue Residents (SOAR) and UNITE HERE Local 11 to further restrict or make changes to plans of previously approved multi-story, mixed-use buildings at 1828 Ocean Ave. and 1921 Ocean Front Walk. Both SOAR and UNITE HERE Local 11 expressed multiple concerns about the buildings, including the option of the housing being used as an extension of the hotels next door, Hotel Casa Del Mar and Shutters on the Beach.
Francis Engler of Unite Here Local 11 said the problem is one they’ve seen many times before. “We are seeing projects get approved as housing all over the region and then finding that they’re not being used for homes,” Engler said, “They’re being used for short term rentals. They’re being used for home sharing. They’re being used for hotel uses.”
Housing in Santa Monica has been an issue for years. In 2017 Ordinance 2535 was amended to restrict most short-term rentals, with the exception of licensed home-shares, in order to help combat the city’s lack of affordable housing.
Councilmember Greg Morena says he understands the concerns and questioned the developers on how they planned to enforce that the units be used for long-term residents and not for short term rentals. “We don’t want to be anywhere near Prop S,” Morena cautioned. Prop S was a local ballot measure passed 1990 that prohibits building new hotels and large restaurants in the coastal zone near the beach.
The Ocean Front Walk Project initially included plans for two 2,000 square foot restaurants, but fearing a Prop S violation, Council amended their denial of the appeal to include language that calls for the removal of one of the two 2,000 square foot restaurants from the building, to be replaced by another form of commercial use.
“The people who drafted Prop. S never imagined putting two 2,000 square foot restaurants in one building,” said Councilmember Kevin McKeown.
Prop. S prohibits a restaurant on the coastal zone from being over 2,000 square feet.
In response to concerns about the potential for illegal corporate housing activity, the developer suggested that they would be open to submitting an annual report to Santa Monica Housing and Economic Development that would show their compliance with only renting to those who would sign at least a one-year lease. The motion also requires that they state the criminal and civil penalties for violating the city’s corporate and short-term housing ordinances in the project description and the building’s leases.
Sally Reinman spoke on behalf of the group SOAR, saying “We want neighbors. We want housing. However, we are asking for some reasonable modifications.” Reinman proposed that the project’s current proposed setback distance and height would block air and light from the neighborhood.
But Councilmember Ted Winterer said the Council’s hands are “pretty much tied on that point,” saying that the California Housing Accountability Act prevents Council from reducing the height and mass of the project and increase its setbacks from the street as Reinman had asked. The law limits the Council’s ability to restrict new development. The law actually became more strict back in 2017 because of the housing crisis.
“We can’t deny the project,” Winterer said.
But not everyone spoke out against the projects. Leslie Lambert, Vice-chairperson of the Planning Commission, asked the Council to deny the appeals made by SOAR and UNITE HERE Local 11, asking that they “Let this much needed 83 units of housing, including 16 very low-income units, move forward to completion.”
Matt Stauffer, Executive Vice President of External Affairs for the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce also spoke in favor of the developments. “Santa Monica needs housing at all income levels and these projects will provide both market rate and affordable units in a sustainable, walk-able and transit oriented fashion,” Stauffer said.