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Two Top City Officials Cancel Vienna Housing Trip


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By Jorge Casuso

March 11, 2024 -- Two top City officials have scrapped plans to attend a "social housing study trip" to Vienna next month that focuses on the Austrian city's public housing projects.

City Manager David White and Planning Director David Martin canceled their planned study trips, which charge a $7,800 registration fee for each participant that does not include air fare or hotel accommodations.

"David White and David Martin will not be attending," City spokesperson Tati Simonian wrote in an email to The Lookout Monday responding to questions about the trip.

Councilmembers Gleam Davis and Caroline Torosis will attend the study trip using their travel funds and stipends to cover the cost ("Council Authorizes Funds for Trip to Vienna," February 15, 2024).

Simonian gave no reason for White and Martin's cancellations, but opposition had been building to the use of much-needed City funds to study a density-based housing model opposed by many local residents.

The trip was first noted in the City Manager's weekly update sent to Councilmembers February 26, which informed them he would be out of the office from April 14 to April 20 to attend the study trip hosted by the Global Policy Leadership Academy (GPLA) "along with David Martin and two of our councilmembers."

"The 6-day study trip provides the foundational knowledge for why and how the city of Vienna is able to provide housing security for its residents," he wrote. "In preparation for this trip, GPLA has prepared a nearly 100-page briefing book for all participants to read before the trip.

"In doing research on this study trip, it was notable to me that Vienna is distinguished for having developed and implemented policies that have transformed the city into a global benchmark for inclusive and sustainable urban development."

Mayor Phil Brock, who has expressed concerns about the trip, noted that Vienna has a total area of 160 square miles, compared to 8.3 square miles for Santa Monica, and that its housing model is based on Soviet bloc housing built with government funding on public land.

"The Vienna housing construct is completely different than Santa Monica," Brock said. "Pictures show miles and miles of highrises.

"I don't believe they are an example for how to build our housing," he said. "This is not a model for Santa Monica."

Brock said he is concerned Vienna could be used as a model for building housing at Santa Monica Airport after it closes at the end of 2028.

"I'm still convinced Davis and Torosis are going to try to convert our airport to public housing, and we don't want that," Brock said. "That's what the residents are dreading."

One of the projects in the study trip is a mixed-use housing development that provides 213 apartments, eight shops and community facilities at a shuttered airfield at the edge of Vienna.

Completed in 2015, it is part of one of Europe's largest urban development projects and will house some 25,000 residents and 20,000 workers in high-rise buildings that use a high density urban model.

More than 60 percent of Vienna's 2 million residents live in city-owned housing or state-subsidized, not-for-profit co-operatives.

At the February 13 Council meeting, Davis assured the Council before it approved the use of travel funds that the trip "has nothing to to with building housing at our airport."

Torosis echoed her colleague's assurance. "This has nothing to do with our airport," she said.

"I'm aware this is a significant trip and expense," Torosis said, "and I'm committed to finding solutions and bringing them back to Santa Monica."

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