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Santa Monica Legislator’s Affordable Housing Bill Passes Assembly  

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By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

May 5, 2017 -- A bill co-authored by Santa Monica Democratic Assemblyman Richard Bloom that would allow local governments to require developments include affordable units was approved by the State Assembly on Thursday.

The vote for AB 1505 was 47-24. All but two of the opponents were Republicans. The Democratic exceptions were Joaquin Arambula from Fresno and Sharon Quirk-Silva from Fullerton.

"Housing costs across the state have increased exponentially and absent corrective action there is no end in sight," said Bloom in a statement on Thursday.

He added, "Given our state's severe housing crisis, it is critical that we give local governments every tool to address affordable housing needs. This bill returns one of our most important and effective tools."

Until 2009, cities were allowed to require at least a certain number of affordable units be included in developments.

That year a California Court of Appeal panel sided with a developer in its lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles claiming the requirement violated the 1994 Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing.

An attempt to change the law to get around the court ruling was made in 2013 via a bill introduced by then-Assemblywoman Toni Atkins. Both chambers of the California Legislature approved the bill, but Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it.

The governor’s rejection angered many affordable housing activists, including Bloom who was then serving in his first term on the Assembly (“Governor’s Veto Frustrates Santa Monica’s Affordable Housing Advocates,” October 15, 2013).

Santa Monica Councilmember Kevin McKeown, who had been a vocal advocate of Atkins’ bill, also was unhappy with Brown’s action.

“In Santa Monica we have literally thousands of new housing units in the pipeline, and our challenge is matching affordability to the needs of working families lest our community gentrify beyond recognition," he told The Lookout in 2013.

The new bill will have no impact on Santa Monica, which has a requirement approved by voters in 1990 that no less than 30 pecent of new multifamily housing constructed every year be affordable.

Cities with affordable housing requirements "continued to move forward with" them but "were skeptical of putting new mandates on construction," said Bloom's chief of staff Sean MacNeil.

"Everyone was on pause for six years," MacNeil said.

Santa Monica, which relied on money from its redevelopment agency before the state dissolved such agencies, has failed to deliver on its affordable housing requirements ("Construction of Affordable Housing in Santa Monica Expected to Drop Again," February 7, 2017).

The City relies on the development agreement process, which grants variances to developers in exchange for community benefits, including the construction of affordable housing.

Although at this time Santa Monica cannot have an official policy requiring affordable units, there is a loophole. Through the development agreement process, which grants variances to developers in exchange for community benefits, the City can make affordable housing demands.

Bloom’s bill is one of many that has been introduced this year in Sacramento that attempt to increase the amount of affordable housing in California.

Among the proposals was another bill by Bloom, since withdrawn, to overturn the Costa-Hawkins Act that the Court referenced in its 2009 ruling against affordable housing requirements.

Bloom’s bill would have also paved the way for the return of extreme rent control. It had lots of supporters, including the Santa Monica Rent Control Board (“Santa Monica Rent Board Endorses State Bills to Turn Back the Clock on Housing Lease Laws,” March 24, 2017).

But it also had many critics, and the bill was withdrawn at the committee stage because its passage was uncertain, and Bloom told The Los Angeles Times, he wanted “to step back and do additional work with various constituencies.”

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