January 24 -- Despite a deep community rift, the City
Council Tuesday night hammered home longstanding exemptions to
fast-track affordable housing projects in Santa Monica.
The law approved by a 4 to 2 vote on second reading makes permanent
an ordinance that exempts from development review 100 percent
affordable housing projects with fewer than 50 units in residential
areas. It also exempts such housing from permit approval in certain
commercial and industrial areas.
The Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) majority on the
council and some civic leaders argued the changes are necessary
to address an affordable housing crisis in an increasingly upscale
beachfront city, while opponents countered the preferential treatment
was unfair and skirted public process.
In a sign of how much public interest the issue has generated,
some three dozen speakers testified at the January 9 council meeting
when the law was approved on first reading.
In addition, some 20 letters were sent to the council in the
last three months -- 11 against and eight in favor of the change.
"I and my neighbors concur with others who have spoken against
this and vehemently oppose this exemption," wrote Laura Thixton,
a resident of Pearl Street, in a December letter to City officials.
From anxiety over the low-income families who could occupy the
projects, to traffic concerns and fears that the law will curtail
public input, several residents agreed with Thixton's views.
"While affordable housing projects can bring a valuable
community benefit, that does not mitigate or outweigh the impacts
that 50 unit residential projects can have on surrounding homes,
condos and residences," wrote Joel Brand, a board member
of the the Ocean Park Association.
"It goes without saying that there are many, many single
family homes in the districts zoned as multi-family," Brand
Others in the community, including two former mayors, went on
record in favor of making the exemptions permanent to boost affordable
housing in Santa Monica.
“This rule will enable affordable housing projects to avoid
time-delaying lawsuits that can kill such a project," wrote
former mayor Jim Conn.
Former Mayor Dennis Zane also spoke at the January 9 meeting
saying he was for the change.
Others argued that a more extensive public process should be
sacrificed to help meet the dire need for affordable housing.
"Although the benefits of such reviews are well known and
often lead to better projects, there is in our entire metropolitan
area a housing crisis of such magnitude and urgency, that anything
that slows down the production of housing must be eliminated,"
wrote Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA.
The Southern California Association of Governments, Fonda-Bonardi
said, puts the current shortage of affordable housing units at
400,000, with Santa Monica’s share being some 2,600 units.
"We should take positive step in the area of greatest need
and exempt affordable housing from the unnecessary delays of Discretionary
Review," he wrote.
Opponents of the exemption said their views were reinforced two
months ago, when an effort to build a home for the mentally ill
in a residential neighborhood in Sunset Park was defeated after
Several community members said such projects prompted them to
oppose the permanent exemption.