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Better Neighborhoods, Same Neighbors!

By Oscar De La Torre

On May 28, 2014, after an outpouring of community opposition, the Santa Monica Planning Commission voted to delay a proposal to demolish 15 rent controlled apartments at 21st Street & Virginia Ave and replace them with 21 condominiums.

In reviewing the City staff report on this apartment to condo-conversion project we see a disturbing and consistent pattern of City staff working as advocates for developers instead of the families who are being pushed out of Santa Monica.

The City staff is continuously losing credibility with residents because they are increasingly disconnected with the wants and needs of the residents. It is clear that there is an anti-resident agenda at play in the City Manager’s Office. The practice of circumventing public process in order to fast track development that will be detrimental to the future of Santa Monica and the quality of life of it’s residents must stop.

The 21st Street & Virginia Ave condo-conversion project will be heard before the Landmarks Commission and eventually will return to the Planning Commission for a vote. Meanwhile, land speculators are making moves, buildings are changing owners and existing residents increasingly are experiencing harassment, eviction actions and deceptive offers to vacate their units. 

With the expansion of light rail, demand for housing along transit-rich corridors is expected to rise in the coming years, creating market pressures that will threaten the City’s rent-controlled affordable housing stock.  

Feeling the real pressure of accelerated development, gentrification and resident displacement, the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA) launched the "Better Neighborhoods, Same Neighbors: Anti-Resident Displacement Campaign."

The goal of the campaign is to monitor evictions, inform residents of their rights and discuss possible solutions within the upcoming zoning ordinance update and most importantly establish unity and solidarity among residents in pushing back the City staff’s effort to approve development projects that will destroy our City’s character and diversity.

The pressures of gentrification along the designated transit corridor using Transit Oriented Development (“TOD”) plans has already pushed many low-income families out of their rental units, the most egregious example is Village Trailer Park.

If aggressive policies aren’t put in place to safeguard our affordable housing stock, more families will continue to suffer from the detrimental impact of gentrification caused by TOD plans.

The result of the displacement of low-income households undermines the goal of reducing automobile use and creates an unintended consequence of pushing out low-income families that are the most reliable users of public transportation.

Therefore, the City needs a comprehensive approach to development along transit corridors that includes aggressive preservation & conservation polices to protect the residents along with the character and scale of the community defined by courtyards and green space.

To give renters and residents a fighting chance, the PNA is organizing a Town Hall meeting on Thursday, June 12, 2014 at 7pm at Virginia Avenue Park’s Thelma Terry Center to inform and engage renters and residents interested in keeping Santa Monica diverse.

The co-sponsors of the Thursday’s Town Hall meeting include Residocracy, Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC), the Anti-eviction Mapping Project, Eviction Defense Network, Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition Board of Directors, Friends of Sunset Park Board of Directors & Mid-City Board of Directors.

Oscar De La Torre is co-chair of the Pico Neighborhood Association.

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