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Councilmembers Float Ways to Build More Affordable Housing in Santa Monica

Bob Kronovetrealty
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By Jorge Casuso

February 18, 2021 -- Three City Councilmembers are asking staff to explore ways to build more affordable housing in Santa Monica without relying mostly on market rate developers.

Mayor Sue Himmelrich and Councilmembers Kristin McCowan and Kevin McKeown have placed an item on Tuesday's agenda to explore building affordable housing on government and non-profit sites and to discourage commercial development sites where housing can be built.

The item also asks staff to explore ways to capture increases in land value due to proposed developments "to guarantee significant truly affordable deed-restricted lower-income housing production."

The proposed options "are all about affordable housing," Himmelrich said,. "I do think it's important to explore everything."

If the item is approved, as expected, the City would "ask all public entities to review highest/best use for their current properties throughout Santa Monica."

The City also would "specifically demand that the State of California commit the DMV site at Cloverfield and Colorado as a suitable site for deed-restricted affordable housing development in Santa Monica’s housing element."

Potential properties for housing could also include the former "Plaza at Santa Monica" proposed site at 4th and 5th and Arizona, as well as a five-story parking structure across the street.

Land at Santa Monica Airport can only be used for housing with voter approval under Measure LC, Himmelrich said.

In addition, the item would "make it easier for congregations and non-profits to build affordable housing on their properties" by incorporate into the Santa Monica Zoning Code the provisions of SB 899.

In addition to using public land, the item asks staff to "explore options to prohibit altogether, or to at a minimum strongly disincentivize, commercial development on sites suitable for residential development in Santa Monica."

"Offices are more lucrative than residential," Himmelrich said. "We need to look for ways to really disincentivize it. I'm a big carrot and stick proponent."

The item will be discussed two weeks after the Council voted 5 to 1 to oppose two housing bills sponsored by liberal lawmakers in Sacramento that would pave the way for more housing.

That item was placed on the agenda by three newly elected Councilmembers -- Phil Brock, Oscar de la Torre and Christine Parra ("New Council Breaks With Past Housing Policies," February 10, 2021).

The new Councilmembers argued that the two bills would encourage land speculators and developers to replace single family homes in less expensive parts of town with dense, high-end multifamily buildings.

The bills, they said, would do nothing to address the affordable housing crisis.

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