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Santa Monica Lawmakers' Bill Would Allow Housing on Commercial Land

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By Jorge Casuso

July 24, 2020 -- A bill co-sponsored by a Santa Monica lawmaker that would allow housing developments with affordable units to be built on commercially zoned land is making its way through the Senate.

AB 3107, sponsored by Assemblymember Richard Bloom, was approved by the Assembly on June 10 and is currently in the Senate Housing Committee.

The bill, which is co-sponsored by San Francisco Assembleymember Phil Ting, is scheduled for a hearing next week, according to Bloom's office.

Under the bill, 20 percent of the units in the new development must be affordable to low-income households and the site cannot be "adjacent to any site that is an industrial use."

"Unfortunately, our efforts to build more affordable housing are hindered by the lack of available land," said a statement emailed to the Lookout by Bloom's staff.

"Modern zoning that separates residential areas from commercial areas restricts the type of housing that can be built on an already limited number of sites," the statement said.

If approved, the bill could pave the way for taller buildings around Santa Monica's Downtown by allowing new buildings to reach the tallest heights currently allowed within a half mile of the site.

According to the bill, “'Highest allowable height' means the tallest height, including any height that requires conditional approval, allowable under local zoning."

This includes "the zoning ordinances and any specific plan adopted by the applicable city or county that apply to the site of the housing development."

The Downtown Community Plan approved three years ago by the City Council designates three sites where buildings can reach 130 feet, instead of 84-foot height limit for other Downtown sites ("Santa Monica Council Sets Highest Affordable Housing Requirement in State for Downtown," July 27, 2017).

Former Santa Monica Mayor Denny Zane, who supports the concept of the bill, worries that the taller height "would create blowback for people in this community."

"The standard is obtuse enough and the potential to create political and development havoc is substantial," he said.

Zane, who is co-chair of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR, also worries the bill "could displace mom and pop commercial uses" that should be protected.

The tenants group plans to weigh in and hopes the legislative process will resolve some of the concerns raised by the current version of the bill, Zane said.

Bloom's staff notes that "housing projects under the bill will still need city approval and will meet existing local design standards."

AB 3107 "would sunset once a local government has adequately zoned enough housing to meet its RHNA" or regional housing obligations, Bloom's office said.

Under the State-mandated goal, Santa Monica must build 8,874 new housing units, two-thirds of them affordable, over the next eight years ("City Council Begins Clearing Path for Nearly 9,000 New Housing Units," March 12, 2020).

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