A Very Bad Deal for Residents and the City

By Mary Marlow

Even if you don’t live south of the 10 freeway, you will want to mark your calendar for Thursday, February 17, at 7 p.m. to listen and give input at a developer-led community meeting on the largest new housing project since the 1960’s on Lincoln and Ocean Park Boulevard (Gelson’s site).

Here’s the ZOOM meeting link

The Transparency Project is bringing the sunshine of public scrutiny to a bad deal for the neighborhood and the city. This February 17 meeting is a City ordered redo of a botched, community process last month when neither adjacent neighborhood association (Friends of Sunset Park, Ocean Park Association) was given the courtesy of notice.

The developer team scheduled the January meeting, learned it conflicted with a City Council meeting at the same time, refused to reschedule it after concerns were raised, and unreasonably restricted public participation to 100 people despite knowing there was widespread interest.

Predictably, many people who tried to participate were excluded, and they complained to City officials.

THE PROPOSED DEAL

The developer, Sanmon, Inc., has revealed plans for an 894,385- square-foot project on the site of the Gelson’s lot, which would include 10 buildings, up to 5 stories/65 feet with 521 apartments, and only 10 percent, or 53, affordable units.

This would be about 60 percent larger than Santa Monica Place but on a much smaller site, and the plans sharply reduce neighborhood-serving retail, as discussed below.

ENVIRONMENTAL AND PUBLIC SAFETY IMPACTS

As designed, this project will not be a center of community life.

Given its minimal retail, this project will substantially increase traffic throughout the area including at Lincoln and Ocean Park Boulevard, which is the second most dangerous intersection in our city in terms of fatalities and serious injuries. (Vision Zero Project report)

Building a residential project of this size and eliminating existing community-serving retail represents the failed planning practices of the past and is unsound on environmental grounds alone. It is against the goals and policies of our General Plan and specific plans, which aim to do the opposite.

STATE DENSITY HOUSING BONUS

California has enacted density bonus legislation that overrides local land-use density and zoning standards, even for charter cities like Santa Monica. A density bonus allows a mixed-use housing developer to significantly increase the number of housing units on a given site in return for including some affordable units.

Sanmon Inc. is applying a 50 percent statewide density bonus to build an additional 173 units of mainly market rate housing even though the deal would only include 53 affordable units. This is more than 3 to 1 for bonus market rate apartments in relation to the affordable units to be built.

Such a deal! That’s how this project gets more than 500 units plus 2 stories taller than current zoning standards.

LOCAL CONTROL MATTERS

This proposed development is the poster child for why local control is essential. Santa Monica’s had an exemplary record of continuous affordable housing production strongly supported by residents.

There’s Prop R, passed by Santa Monica voters in 1990, that requires
30 percent of all new multifamily housing in the city each year be affordable to low- and moderateincome households.

In 2018, voters enacted a new half a percent sales tax -- half of it restricted to producing affordable housing.

Still, these and other efforts reported to the state every year did not exempt us from these density housing bonuses aimed at recalcitrant cities throughout the state not doing their part to build sufficient housing.

This means that our City must adopt objective community standards, such as how many square feet a housing unit (studio up to 3-bedroom) must be for any project so that a developer cannot take advantage of density bonuses to build much larger projects than our city neighborhoods and infrastructure can handle.

CITY COUNCIL ACTS

This site wasn’t included in the City’s inventory of suitable sites for housing to meet Santa Monica’s state-mandated housing targets. So, residents were left in the dark and didn’t see it coming.

But the City is not rolling over. In addition to requiring the developer to hold an adequate community meeting on February 17, the City Council recently voted to require projects of over 1 acre be subject to Development Review, not just administrative approval.

This means both the public and the Planning Commission will be heard, and an appeal to the council is possible if the Planning Commission decision is disputed.

Kudos to our City Council for listening to our concerns and expanding the public process. We await next steps after the community provides its input. We will do a Part 2 as that unfolds.

THIS COULD HAPPEN IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD

Neighbors, look around your immediate neighborhoods and envision what large commercial sites could be targeted for huge housing projects with inadequate neighborhood retail by using state density bonuses.

The Lincoln Center project eliminates the dry cleaning, UPS store, hair salon, pet store, and restaurant, leaving a scaled down grocery (about the size of a 7-Eleven) and a small café.

Large properties such as the Pavilions on Montana, the Ralph’s on Cloverfield and the Rite Aid on Wilshire at 14th Street could also become huge, mostly market-rate, housing projects.

WHAT’S NEXT

Developers can reduce their projects to meet community expectations and environmental issues, but they don’t have to. So, it’s very important that people who care about this deal weigh in, and continue to weigh in, throughout the process.

We hope the City, within the law, will reject this deal as bad for Santa Monica. It is too big, impactful, and detrimental to public safety. And it does not include enough affordable housing to justify the height and density proposed.

If you want to keep informed on this project, please contact: info@FriendsofSunsetPark.org

Mary Marlow is chair of the Santa Monica Transparency Project


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