No city can afford a 20-25% increase in population. But Sacramento lawmakers are currently voting on a package of land-use and housing bills that will alter Santa Monica’s character and future forever. This has been referred to as “the great California land grab.” And while the state is selling us down the river, where’s the resistance? These nine bills, simply stated, void all land-use constraints!
Santa Monica has been assigned 8,874 units to be built over the next eight years with 69% affordable, and possibly more when you consider the likely demolition of older and smaller one and two story buildings probably housing affordable units that are so much in need. And yet, Santa Monica’s population has not recently increased, or at most 1-2% over the last several years.
Density on Steroids
This package of nine bills will effectively end single family zoning and neighborhoods throughout California. Four homes will be allowed where one currently exists. Or instead, a 10 unit building can be built with a modest fee paid to avoid including affordable units. And another bill does not require garages or yards. Or replacing one-story corner stores with tall apartments with no provision for affordable housing or even parking! Another bill “fast tracks” permits while prohibiting environmental or local review! And yet another allows the city council to rezone any parcel in the city to build 10 units, and on and on. Still another highly controversial bill with irreversible effects authored by our own state assemblyman Richard Bloom in collusion with developers will allow building heights to be randomly determined by the highest commercial building within a half mile!! All this in a city that currently builds an average 200 units a year with about 40-45 affordable units.
Dishonesty During Covid-19 Chaos
In this development frenzy, the bills are being pushed through while the public is focused on civic protests and a resurgent pandemic! Hearings will be limited to review by only one committee – reducing the ability to vet these important bills. The public will not be involved – sound familiar? These bills are not only totally unnecessary, but highly detrimental – providing no relief to the affordability crisis but will succeed in dramatically reducing local control by fast tracking projects, voiding public hearings and environmental reviews, height restrictions and single family zoning. What’s not to like?
Each of these bills promotes substantial development, and local land use control will be history if these bills ae approved. We are already substantially more density than all other coastal cities with the exception of San Francisco and San Diego – but will now catch up fast. Historically, 200 units built per year will increase to 1,250 – an enormous change, but removing the public from the process will help. And the state is offering all communities $200 million to rework their codes to enable this change. Even though our city’s zoning capacity is capable of handling the 8,874 or more additional units without increasing height and density limits, there are substantial economic penalties if Santa Monica doesn’t meet these assigned goals. And moreover, the state is exempt from helping local governments pay for the 25% increase in infrastructure that will be required.
To put 8,874 or more units in visual and physical perspective, this will add 1,250 units in each of the seven council districts or 25 massive six-story buildings covering two lots along with resulting traffic jams from the first day of construction – a wonderful prospect to look forward to! And with no planning commission review process, how do you feel about these 175 six-story buildings all looking similar – like big building blocks with small protruding balconies reminiscent of computer punch cards – thanks yet again Richard Bloom for selling his constituents down the river. The entire city is being up-zoned – truly growth on steroids and the public is not even involved!
Plus or minus 9,000 units in eight years is a colossal amount of housing – just picture a six-story block building on every downtown block and every block of the 10 boulevards and primary arteries throughout the city – replacing one-story commercial buildings which represent well over 50% of the development on those blocks. And the neighborhood’s first sign of these projects will be a posted demolition sign – i.e. no opportunity to know about the project and no opportunity for community input! “But it won’t matter if the public doesn’t like the project as they have absolutely no recourse anyway” – quoting the Chair of the Planning Commission.
With our city’s existing infrastructure and future lack of financial resources, these policies and numbers cannot meet our sustainable goals. Water independence, trash recycling and energy generation will be relics of the past while the decline of tourism, the loss of small retail, affordable housing, pension funding, school education and cutting our library funding 43% will continue to plague our city. And Santa Monica already ranks at the bottom of the list for park space per resident. With the expansion of infrastructure and other city services, everyone’s taxes will also expand! These housing bills will only increase Santa Monica’s affordability crisis.
It’s Time to Act
With increased density, we’re choosing a city of hand sanitizers instead of sunlight and blue skies. This nine-bill, knee-jerk reaction by Richard Bloom in collusion with developers and others will provide homeowners and the developers who buy their homes with substantial profits while 70% of the residents will be further deprived. What is important is Santa Monica’s overall “quality of life,” or as my colleague, Thane Roberts says, “this is a battle for our city’s soul.”
Where Did We Go Astray?
In 2010, with substantial resident input, Santa Monica completed a seven year process creating the city’s general plan, the LUCE. This established the “intent of the city to be generally a low scale community” including three and four story buildings with 30 and 45 foot height limits, while recognizing the “loss of significant character defining buildings.” however, it wasn’t long after the adoption of the LUCE that the City Council and administration started to think of it as “LOOSE” and started supporting projects that significantly exceed height and density limits. And now we have these proposed state laws.
What Can You/We Do?
Stay tuned next week as we will continue the story with realistic alternatives to this very real dilemma and of our City Council’s complete lack of standing up on residents’ behalf – so what else is new! Until then,
By Ron Goldman for SMart (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow)
Thane Roberts, Architect, Robert H. Taylor AIA, Ron Goldman FAIA, Architect, Dan Jansenson, Architect, Building and Fire-Life Safety Commission, Samuel Tolkin Architect, Mario Fonda-Bonardi, AIA, Planning Commissioner, Phil Brock, Santa Monica Arts Commission.
For previous articles see www.santamonicaarch.wordpress.com/writing