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Community Groups Urge Santa Monica Council to Reject Housing Targets
By Jorge Casuso
March 10, 2020 -- Nine community groups on Tuesday urged the City Council to appeal the "unattainable, irrational, and environmentally unsustainable" housing targets mandated by the State.
The letter came hours before the Council takes up an emergency interim ordinance streamlining Santa Monica's permitting process to reach the mandated 8,874 units, 70 percent of them affordable ("Council Could Immediately Streamline Permit Process to Spur Housing Development," March 5, 2020).
The ordinance would immediately eliminate pubic hearings for 100 percent affordable hosing projects and for many market-rate projects between 30,000 and 75,000 square feet.
The Council should "step in and direct" the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), which set the target, "to re-think its housing goals and methodology and do so in a public process," wrote the leaders of six neighborhood and three community groups.
SCAG should take into account and credit Santa Monica's leadership role in the region "by allowing us to continue to produce affordable housing in realistic, attainable numbers as we have demonstrated in the past," according to the letter.
The Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) target, which must be met between 2021 and 2028, "is the result of last-minute political maneuvering instead of solid, real world economic, land use, geographical or infrastructure limitations or environmental realities for Santa Monica," the groups wrote.
The letter cites Mayor Kevin McKeown's calculation that under the current affordable housing requirements it would take building 30,000 market-rate units to meet Santa Monica's affordable housing quota.
Such a building boom would add some 48,000 new residents to a City whose population has hovered around 90,000 for decades, McKeown said ("Santa Monica Takes Initial Step to Dramatically Boost Housing Production," December 13, 2019).
The groups note that while the City is on track to meet its RHNA allocation of 2,700 new market-rate units -- there are already 1,500 units in the planning pipeline -- there is neither land nor funding available to build the more than 5,000 affordable units mandated.
"Even if available land could be found, Santa Monica would have to exponentially increase development to come anywhere near these numbers and finance huge increases in its infrastructure, its police, fire, schools, and other departments," the letter said.
"The problem is where within our already built-out City we could possibly build this magnitude of affordable housing? And how could it be built without massive subsidies; subsidies that don’t exist?"
The City cannot rely on market-rate housing developers and, as a result, "new office projects would be needed to help pay for so much affordable housing," the groups wrote.
"Building more commercial office space is the last thing this city needs or that residents will support. We can’t play 'catch up' on affordable housing by increasing office space at the same time."
The groups also warned that "there is no tolerance in our community for having our City consider 'up-zoning' certain areas in order to give developers an incentive to build higher density housing."
Santa Monica successfully appealed a "disproportionately high" RHNA housing allocation in the past and should do so again, the groups said.
"This time around, the numbers are not just 'disproportionately high' -- they are delusional and cannot be met and therefore the City must appeal them," the letter said.
The groups noted that other cities -- including Laguna Beach, Costa Mesa, Irvine and Newport Beach -- have already challenged their RHNA targets ("Santa Monica Scrambles to Meet Housing Targets Other Cities Are Opposing," March 9, 2020).
The letter to the Council was signed by the Boards of Friends of Sunset Park, North of Montana Association, Pico Neighborhood Association, Mid City Neighbors, Santa Monica Northeast Neighbors and Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition.
In addition to the neighborhood groups, the Boards of Residocracy, Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City and Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow signed the letter.
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