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S.M.a.r.t Column: Top Toady Town

Throughout history, from the ancient Romans and Assyrians to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, siege warfare has served as an effective weapon against municipalities resistant to conquest. Even with complete capitulation, conquered cities are subject to widespread plunder to compensate loyal foot soldiers and onerous taxation to enrich victorious empires and their lieges.

In Santa Monica, modern-day plunder comes in the form of unfettered pillaging of our community resources under the Housing Accountability Act and state-mandated residential development quotas. In 1990, the state added a retribution measure to the law with the “Builder’s Remedy,” which threatened municipalities with massive, unsustainable, and undesirable developments for those who resisted unconditional surrender and complete state control. Under the state’s bootprint, the sky had no limit.

But for decades, the city’s defensive walls held tight as residents and city officials collaborated on sustainable development based on respect for the natural resources of our coastal community—sunshine, open sky, sea breeze, limited fresh water, and seaside charm—to chart out a long-term vision of responsible growth. And it wasn’t just about the quality of life for residents and respect for the environment, for the very same qualities also drew tourists to our fair mid-rise beach town, to the tune of almost one billion dollars in 2022 alone. The city and its residents worked diligently and guarded with care the goose that laid the golden egg. 

Until one day the marauders came upon the ancient Builder’s Remedy text, which was presented to the politically ambitious and developer-backed governor with haste. Together, they wielded their newly discovered battering ram to breach the defensive walls, storm the city, and take control of the local government. While the city’s officials were allowed to remain in their positions, all power was transferred to the Sacramento city-state. Carefully crafted zoning laws, long-term city planning, and resident voices were all quashed as developers began looting the land and its most valuable resources. Under the bootprint of Sacramento, developer profit was declared king of the land. 

Although the peasants resisted mightily, and the city attempted to negotiate a conditional surrender, it was no match for the state, which mandated ever-increasing and arbitrary demands for more and more development. When the city delivered on the state’s demands, the state doubled and then tripled the demand, shouting only, “Build baby, build!” To placate the masses who threatened revolt, the state promised that the occupying development forces would require 69% of a mandated 8,874 new housing units to be affordable units for the commoners and serfs. But when plans were submitted, the city-state laughed with glee, giving bonus development height and scale to developers in exchange for providing only 15% to 20% affordable units, which would be crowded into second-class buildings far, far away from the nobles, where they would forever remain locked into landless servitude. To prevent escape, these affordable units would lack a viable means of transport, shackling its inhabitants to incomes and services available only through nascent public transportation.

When the people further protested, the state claimed that the state, despite a continuing loss of population, needed massive amounts of luxury coastal housing to address the growing numbers of the unhoused. When the people responded, “Huh?” the state explained that all municipalities must do their part to support developer profiteering. The people still could not understand how Santa Monica, an already densely packed municipality of only 8.1 square miles, could receive 16 of the 26 applications submitted for outsized Builder’s Remedy projects when 170 other cities and three entire counties were deemed equally guilty of not meeting development quota demands. 

The bewildered Santa Monicans tried in vain to understand why a full 60% of builder’s remedy projects would target in its small territory. Since the state claimed the onerous and arbitrary housing quotas and massive build-whatever-you-want punishments were to ensure more housing for the masses, the naïve villagers believed the development would reflect community need and that the bulk of the projects would exist where the shortage is greatest and jobs most plentiful. Or perhaps more affordable locations closer to industry would be chosen, and the megaliths would be dispersed somewhat evenly throughout the land. 

But alas, the people were mightily mistaken because, as they soon learned, the mandates were not at all about the actual housing affordability crisis. They were instead about profit and finally opening up our most valuable and environmentally fragile lands to state-backed developer excess and greed. The demoted city officials were allowed to play negotiate a drawing down of the megaliths, some of which were reduced to merely “bonus” sized eyesore developments that would still tower over the land, blotting out sunlight, creating traffic hazards and gridlock, extreme overcrowding and increased carbon emissions. 

The people were further disheartened to learn that the highly touted affordable housing allocation would expire in a relatively short 55-year term, returning the deed-restricted units to market-rate housing. So once the loot fest was over, our resources exhausted, and the invaders onto the next conquest, our once fair beach town would end up right back where it started—a city of unaffordable, less attractive market-rate luxury housing rentals, with the addition of gridlocked traffic, water insecurity, increased crime, worsened air quality and a degraded spring-break quality tourist industry. Cue the housing crisis of 2079.

But to end on a positive note, our puppet city government recently received from the empire recognition as a Top Toady Town.  After bringing the hammer down hard on our white flag-waving city, a token of the state’s appreciation for early and complete capitulation was proudly posted on the city’s website.  “Gov. Gavin Newsom this week designated Santa Monica as a Prohousing (sic) community, recognizing the city’s strong commitment to developing affordable housing and opening the door for added funding opportunities to help the city continue this work.” How proud they must be. 

By Marie Standing 

Send comments to santamonicasmart@gmail.com

Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow

Robert H. Taylor AIA, Architect; Dan Jansenson, Architect & Building and Fire-Life Safety Commission; Thane Roberts, Architect; Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA, Architect; Samuel Tolkin Architect & Planning Commissioner; Michael Jolly, AIR-CRE; Marie Standing; Jack Hillbrand AIA, Architect 

For previous articles, see www.santamonicaarch.wordpress.com/writing

in Opinion
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