Once again Sacramento is trying to destroy our City and our State. The current Godzilla is Senate Bill 50 (SB50) introduced by the same real estate industry con artist Scott Weiner who tried to destroy our City last year with SB827. That previously defeated bill would have allowed four to eight story buildings anywhere in our City. The current bill, SB50, does the same thing, only this zombie is more cleverly disguised in a 20-page confusing patchwork of carve-outs for counties of less than 600,000 population and other special interests in a cynical attempt to get the political support sufficient for passage in spite of its patently flawed
The first flaw is the bill allows 45‘ (four-five story) buildings within 1/2 mile of transit stops and 55’ (five-six stories) buildings within 1/4 mile of transit stops that meet specific 10 minute weekday rush hour bus times and 20 minute weekday (6 a.m.-10 p.m.) bus times. This impractical zoning by bus schedule is a foolish invitation to abuse in both directions. Cities who want to avoid the impact of this disastrous bill will simply reduce their bus times below the thresholds to preserve their current zoning to the detriment of their beleaguered transit riders and of their financially strapped bus systems. Conversely city’s under the thumb of real estate interests, who want to increase their property values and their property turnover, just need to tweak the bus schedules to reach the bus schedule thresholds, to unleash a monstrous development cycle on their residents. You can be certain that no resident who advocates for more frequent bus service will be thinking that they will be actually destroying their own community by being successful. In other words, bus service, which should be a benign community benefit, has been perversely repurposed by SB50 to destroy communities, local zoning and resident’s control.
The second serious flaw is the global warming effects of this law. With current technology, we cannot build net-zero buildings taller than three stories. Net zero buildings are those that generate all the power they need on their own site. New residential buildings are ambitiously mandated by current State law to reach net zero by 2020 with commercial buildings following by 2030 and the entire state to be effectively net zero by 2045. By mandating 45’ to 55’ buildings we are “baking in” global warming, with its attendant pollution and species extinction for the next 50 years or the life of these buildings. But it gets worse, not only will these buildings be obsolete, from an environmental point of view, the day they are built, their exceptional height will shade their lower existing neighbors, preventing them from adding photovoltaic solar collectors. So for 30 pieces of silver for the real estate industry, we are all expected to give up our ability to retrofit existing buildings which is where the quickest and greatest savings in energy can be made.
The third environmental flaw is that the bill has no provisions for the increased water demands (or police, fire and schools) of this additional housing that must be allowed by cities regardless of the local ability to provide those services. SB50 guarantees Santa Monica will never reach water neutrality as ambitiously set for 2023, therefore will never become a sustainable and resilient City. It will however accelerate other adjacent City’s draining of our aquifer, further increasing our water vulnerability.
The fourth flaw is that cities will be forced to allow single-family districts (R-1) to have 4 units wedged into existing single-family buildings with a small footprint increase. You can imagine the parking wars as R-1 districts, which are typically more remote from bus lines, try to deal with a four-fold increase in parking demand. The effective parking load of 4 units is somewhere between 6 to 8 cars. Even with 50’ wide lots only two cars can be parked in front of the house under the best of circumstances, so the other 4 to 6 cars will end up on the front yard or back yard or both. And don’t plan on a social life or a home business as guests, maids, clients and workers will not be able to park anywhere near your home. SB50 gleefully destroys R-1 districts and replaces them with the overcrowded slums of the future.
The fifth flaw is that SB50 prevents the City from requiring more than half a parking space per unit for new buildings. In a City fully balkanized into parking districts, and with insufficient public transit, cars will not magically disappear just because the residents are crammed into smaller and smaller cages. In fact, the number of cars will exponentially increase because virtually all the new units will be top dollar units whose tenants need somewhere to drive and park their Mercedes and Teslas.
The sixth SB50 flaw is its false claim that 17 to 25 % of the units will be affordable. That amount is only true for large projects above 200 units and if developers chose the LOW-income rent level for their affordable units. No developer will choose that rent level for their affordable units. instead, every developer will provide only their legally minimum required 6-11% units restricted to EXTREMELY LOW-income tenants. These units will only be available for 30 years instead of the typical affordability control of 55 years. That means that in 2049 we will have another affordability crisis when the rent restrictions are lifted for the buildings built if SB50 is implemented.
Finally the biggest flaw is the negative effect on overall housing affordability. As soon as you can double the height or density on any parcel, its owner’s land values will go up geometrically so only the wealthiest developers will be able to buy and speculate. Small developers and individual potential homeowners will be immediately priced out of the market. There will be an Ellising and demolition derby dislocating tenants and the remaining authentic local businesses. This will cascade as the forces of gentrification are totally unleashed further hollowing out Santa Monica’s endangered middle and lower economic classes.
Santa Monica is already meeting the housing goals touted for SB50. In 2018 for example, we approved over 500 units, of which 9% were affordable, and which met twice the regional population growth. Santa Monica does not need, want or benefit from SB50 which is a dangerous trojan horse tarted up with lipstick; tell your council people and state representatives to take a position against it.
By Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA for SMart
For Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow Sam Tolkin, Architect; Dan Jansenson Building and Safety Commissioner, Architect; Mario Fonda-Bonardi, AIA, Planning Commissioner; Ron Goldman, FAIA; Thane Roberts,Architect; Bob. Taylor, AIA; Phil Brock, Arts Commissioner.