September 25, 2021 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

SMa.r.t. Column: The Big Lie Just Got Bigger

Part 1 of 2

It’s not the lie about a stolen election or the dangers of vaccination or if Biden lost Afghanistan. It’s how Sacramento wants to gut your city, especially the R-1 (single-family home) zones,  with the lie of creating of housing “affordability”.

During the past several weeks, the State legislature approved two bills SB9 and SB10 that will destroy Santa Monica’s essential beachside character by eviscerating the R-1 (single-family home) zones and unleashing a densification demolition derby everywhere else. These bills are now awaiting the recall besieged governor’s signature. It will be interesting to see how and when he responds. These bills could be signed either to try to forestall his recall by repaying his realtor, construction union, and finance industry funders, or alternatively vetoed because of their immense unpopularity among residents and organizations such as Livable California, Neighbors United and among many local elected officials.  If he fails to act in 12 days the bills are automatically approved. Your City Council has taken a position against an earlier version of SB9 but their current position is unclear.

Over 70% of the residents oppose these two bills, once they know about them. But it’s not clear if we have reached a critical mass yet to prompt a governor’s veto. Most Californians are aware there is a recall election going on, but in spite of the heroic efforts of the grassroots opponents of SB9 and SB10, fewer are aware of the threat these two bills pose to their city. 

What Does SB9 Actually Do?

Specifically, SB9 allows developers, by right, to carve up single-family lots into two and then build duplexes on each lot which can be as small as 1200 square feet. Setback requirements have been virtually eliminated. SB9 also actually prevents our City from imposing any parking requirements, since most of our City is within 1/2 mile of a major transit corridor or stop.  Thus the actual parking load from each original R-1 lot will balloon from 2 cars to 8 cars. Developers will not want to provide that amount of parking which would take up about 40% of a typical lot, so that “extra“ parking will flood the street. The people who can afford to buy/rent these expensive duplexes on these rump lots will not forgo their cars, so those “extra” cars will create relentless unsolvable parking wars between neighbors. In point of fact, street parking will disappear because of all the driveway curb cuts (with the attendant loss of mature street trees ) these units will require if the property does not have back alley access. 

Of course, many existing beautiful single-family buildings will have to be demolished for this speculative payoff.  As collateral damage trees, which make our warming City about 10 degrees cooler,  will be killed everywhere to accommodate all this new high-density construction. Open space that characterized the R-1 zone will vanish to wedge in four homes (which for resale value will be as large as possible) where there used to be just one home. Naturally, most existing homeowners will have to be bought out for this to happen because they typically do not have the $4-8,000,000 in cash and structured financing needed to build 4 new units. A cottage industry of developers willing to “assist”, for a hefty fee, often unsophisticated owners in these developments is already emerging. These bills will also supercharge the development activity of large speculative financial corporations who have massive funding and already own a quarter of single family homes in America, They will move in to hoard and speculate on these new impacted single family homes further pricing out aspiring local buyers/renters and especially families. These investment funds’ deeper pockets and profit needs will lock out any modest renter trying to move up to ownership.

This will happen both in the wealthier neighborhoods (you can charge more for the same house) and in the more modest neighborhoods where land is cheaper. But no neighborhood is safe from this unleashed speculation. Corporate capital will invade any desirable location in the world and our City is desirable to their covetous eys. The first to sell-out will be owners that are either greedier, or those whose homes are unfortunately run done,  or those in financial trouble. When Minneapolis tried essentially the same stunt, they found the wealthier desirable neighborhoods suffered the most from over-building first. In Santa Monica’s case, the Pico neighborhood, which has the cheaper land will probably feel the wrecking ball first, as has already happened, but Sunset Park, Ocean Park,  NEN  and NOMA will certainly fall soon after.  

What Does SB10 Actually Do?

SB 10 performs a similar urban demolition by allowing 10 units to be built, by right,  on ANY parcel in the City regardless of parcel size if 2/3 of the Council agrees with this upzoning. In the R-1 zones developers will most likely build 4 story towers with the first floor dedicated to optional parking (SB10 similarly has no real parking requirement) and the upper three floors will probably be housing. Note however, they could go higher as THERE ARE NO HEIGHT LIMITS IN SB10. This will flood our R-1,R-2 (multifamily)  and OP-2 districts, that formerly had a green gracious 2 story ambiance with real back yards, with a minimum of 4 story hulking towers with virtually no open space essential to survive future Covid lockdowns. It doesn’t take many 4+ story towers to destroy a 2 story, low rise, beachside neighborhood. Naturally 4+ story buildings will also shade their adjacent two story neighbors preventing them from ever attaining solar photovoltaic sustainability. 

Apart from the same problems listed above for SB9, SB 10 contains an additional poison pill, among others, specially concocted for Santa Monica. It allows any City council with a 2/3 majority to override virtually any voter approved opposing proposition. In Santa Monica’s case, if developers seized a 5/7 majority on our Council, they could over ride our voter approved airport to park initiative if any development were proposed by the Council.

How Do These Bills Address the Affordability Issue?

The important thing about these bills is they have NO affordable requirements for developers. Affordability in housing is defined as when an occupant to pays no more than 30% of their income for that housing. And affordability is the real housing crisis in California, not the quantity of units. Our City has about 4,951 vacant units among 47,438 households according to the 2020 census. A City with a 10% vacancy rate does not have a housing quantity problem, it has an affordability problem. Increasing density has no beneficial impact on affordability.  In fact, absent rent control which the state defanged years ago, incentivizing increased density simply makes land more expensive and allows it to be captured sooner by well-heeled for-profit developers than by the less well-financed nonprofit affordable housing providers. This is how blanket increases of density by increasing lands costs everywhere they actually prevent the creation of new affordable housing.

In other words, these bills are designed to allow the maximum construction, read wealth extraction, for the development industry with no encumbering affordability requirements. This unleashes more gentrification since the new housing always costs more than the housing it replaces. The bought out renters and owners for this accelerated development will never be able to buy or rent back into their lost units.

As a final incentive to supercharge this pointless densification, the bills have been designed to relieve developers of any obligation to pay  for the infrastructure upgrades created by this  densification. Residents, owners and renters, will be subsidizing corporate profiteering by being forced to pay for new  unwanted development-driven infrastructure upgrades to sewers, water, street lights etc.etc..   

The citizens know these bills are about profits not affordability.  They want the Governor’s leadership, to  stop the misleading zoning bills like SB9 and SB10 and now SB478 (which allows no zoning restrictions at all on multifamily small lots) spewing from the legislature. We hope he will be honest about the state’s real housing crises and will advocate against fake affordability solutions like SB9 and SB10.  Ultimately he should be advocating for subsidies of all kinds for more truly affordable housing.

The second part of this article will appear next week: Can we create affordability without densification?

By Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA for SM.a.r.t.

Ron Goldman, Architect FAIA; Dan Jansenson, Architect, Building & Fire-Life Safety Commissioner; Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA, Planning Commissioner Commissioner; Robert H. Taylor, Architect AIA: Thane Roberts, Architect; Sam Tolkin, Architect; Marc Verville accountant ret.; Michael Jolly, AIRCRE

For previous articles see

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