By Dolores Quintana
Two days ahead of the state’s deadline, the City Council of Santa Monica last month approved the required 6th Cycle Housing Element Update for the years of 2021 to 2029 and the Environmental Impact Report.
The Housing Element Update passed with a vote of 5 for approval and 2 voting against approval. The Environmental Impact Report assent passed unanimously.
California’s Housing Element Planning Requirement requires “that all local governments (cities and counties) adequately plan to meet the housing needs of everyone in the community. California’s local governments meet this requirement by adopting housing plans as part of their “general plan” (also required by the state). General plans serve as the local government’s “blueprint” for how the city and/or county will grow and develop and include seven elements: land use, transportation, conservation, noise, open space, safety, and housing.”
Additionally, the Housing Element Law is tied to state incentives for cities: “State funding programs for transportation, infrastructure, and housing often require or consider a local jurisdiction’s compliance with housing element law. These competitive funds can be used for fixing roads, adding bike lanes, improving transit, or providing much needed affordable housing to communities. In some cases, funding from state/federal housing programs can only be accessed if the jurisdiction has a compliant housing element. In other cases, a compliant housing element is not a requirement in order to apply for funding; however, those applying for funding will receive extra points on their application if they do have a compliant housing element (thereby increasing their chances in the competitive application process).”
Each city is dependent on a compliant Housing Element Plan to receive certain funding. Governor Newsom’s new suite of housing laws that were recently signed further put a focus on and incentivize cities to build more affordable housing to receive new state subsidies.
“The final Housing Element Update will expand Santa Monica’s leadership on affordable housing production on the westside and living our values of equity and inclusion by leveraging both public and private land for new affordable units,” said Mayor Sue Himmelrich. “The road to get here was not easy, but we have taken a balanced approach that complies with the State’s requirements while also maintaining the character of our neighborhoods.”
The focus of the Housing Element Plan approved by the Santa Monica City Council is “incentivizing housing production, particularly affordable housing; keeping existing residents housed; focusing housing near daily services and in areas that previously have not accommodated housing; and addressing equitable housing access that overcomes historical discriminatory practices and expands housing choice.”
City Councilmember Gleam Davis and Mayor Pro Tem Kristen McCowan were the dissenters. Davis said, in her dissent, that “HCD may well find this to be a technically compliant document…I’m not a housing expert. But for me, there is, as I said before, a moral imperative to go beyond technical compliance.”
There were some changes made to the plan from the City Council. “Council largely approved the staff recommendations with the exception that Council moved up the date to issue an RFP for at least one city-owned site from December 31, 2023 to June 30, 2023, and added the possibility for revenue generating uses. They also moved up the date to reimagine the Affordable Housing Production Program and align it with the affordable housing production measures in the Housing Element Update to June 30, 2022.”
An RFP is a request for proposal, which solicits bids from companies to complete a process. These bids are proposals for cost and the structure of how the service would be completed for the city and then the city can select the best one to complete the proposed project.
Councilperson Christine Parra expressed concern about city services and who would pay for them, “I don’t think it’s fair for property owners to take the brunt of taxes to have to pay for this mandate, because that’s what it is, this mandate that is coming from the State.”
The Santa Monica City’s Housing Element Update includes seeking funding sources to support rental assistance for vulnerable individuals and households at-risk of displacement, Revising development and design standards to ensure that housing projects are feasible and incentivized over commercial development and restricting the removal of existing rental units for site redevelopment and require that protected units are replaced.