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Suggestion to Transfer Housing to Palmdale "Immoral and Repulsive," Former Mayor Says

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By Jorge Casuso

February 22, 2023 -- Preliminary talks with Palmdale officials to transfer some of Santa Monica's housing quota for cash would likely require funding from a ballot measure whose sponsor calls the fledgling proposal an "abomination."

Former mayor Sue Himmelrich -- whose transfer tax measure would generate some $40 million a year to prevent homelessness and build affordable housing -- said the proposal undermines the voters' will.

"The whole point" of Santa Monica's affordable housing policy "is to have people work in Santa Monica and live in Santa Monica," said Himmelrich, who served eight years on the Council.

"The policy behind doing this is not to give money to other people to have people in Santa Monica live two hours away," she said.

"It would be taking dollars that were meant to support housing in Santa Monica for those who are already here under our housing priorities.

"I think it's an abomination that someone would suggest it," Himmelrich said. "To me that is really immoral and repulsive."

The former mayor's comments came one week after the Palmdale City Council voted 4 to 1 to continue talks with local officials to build State-mandated housing in the inland city ("Palmdale Council Votes to Explore Housing Deal With Santa Monica," February 21, 2023).

The proposal is seen as a way to meet Santa Monica's Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) mandate to add 8,895 new units, 69 percent of them affordable, over the next eight years.

Some Councilmembers believe such a proposal should be considered as a possible way to address the regional homelessness and housing crisis.

"I think it's an interesting idea," said Councilmember Oscar de la Torre. "You can build three units in Palmdale for every unit you build in Santa Monica.

"We are committed to building more affordable housing, and it sounds to me that any potential partnership between citries to do so is contingent on the State Legislature passing legislation and allocating funding so cities can meet these State-imposed mandates.

"We should definitely consider it," he said. "We should keep all our options open."

During the Palmdale Council meeting, Mayor Laura Bettencourt, who called the proposal "horrible," demanded to know who City officials were talking to in Santa Monica.

"Give me a name," she said, but no one responded..

Councilmember Phil Brock stressed that the proposal was first brought up by Palmdale officials in an email he and Councilmember Lana Negrete received on December 8.

"Please allow me to introduce myself," wrote Interim City Manager Ronda Perez, who is now City Manager. "I have discussed an opportunity with a couple of my councilmembers regarding your city’s challenges to comply with RHNA assessments and Measure GS.

"We believe there may be potential for our two cities to enter into a mutually beneficial arrangement by which at least some portion of Santa Monica’s mandated housing development could occur in Palmdale.

"After all, Palmdale has more vacant land available for development than Santa Monica, and you have more financial resources than Palmdale," Perez wrote.

Brock said he forwarded the email to City Manager David White that day. The City's response, Brock said, was "if you want to talk to us, we'd love to hear any idea."

At 10:30 a.m. on December 11, a meeting was arranged. Brock and Negrete attended, along with White and Deputy City Manager Anuj Gupta and "a couplde of other people," Brock said.

Representing Palmdale were Perez, Palmdale Councilmember Eric Ohlsen, Mayor Pro Tem Andrea Alarcon and Assemblymember David Carrillo.

Carrillo, who was a councilmember before winning a seat on the legislature in November, had "indicated that he would be willing to sponsor legislation to ratify an appropriate deal between Santa Monica and Palmdale," according to Perez's letter.

The Palmdale officials' impression was that Santa Monica had money to spend with the passage of GS, Himmelrich's $56 per $1,000 transfer tax hike for properties that sell for $8 million or more.

The tax hike will generate an estimated $50 million a year -- 80 percent of which would go into the City's Homelessness Prevention and Affordable Housing Fund -- and the other 20 percent to local public schools.

"They thought we were rich," Brock said. "We tried to set them straight. My point was it's not going to be that easy."

Brock said an offer was made to place an item on the City Council agenda where Palmdale officials could present the idea, but the offer was declined.

"I thought thee issue was dead," Brock said.

That's when he and the Council received an email early Friday afternoon from City Manager White.

"As I was flying and working on email, I was made aware of this article from the Antelope Valley Press," he wrote.

The article he was referring to began: "The City of Santa Monica has approached Palmdale about using land to build housing to help meet Santa Monica’s state-required new housing development goals."

White continued, "We are in process of following up with this publication to correct the record, and provide similar clarification to any other media outlets that may inquire."

The statement read, "At the request of the Palmdale City Manager, officials from Palmdale and the City of Santa Monica held an introductory meeting last December to discuss the two cities’ respective housing production obligations and resource needs.

"City of Santa Monica staff have had no further discussions with Palmdale officials since, and any further engagement would not be authorized without direction from the Santa Monica City Council."

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