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City Prepares to Submit Plan to Build Nearly 9,000 Housing Units

Bob Kronovetrealty
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Santa Monica

Santa Monica Apartments

Santa Monica College
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Santa Monica, CA 90405
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By Jorge Casuso

October 8, 2021 -- The City Council is expected to approve a plan Tuesday that meets a State mandate to build 8,895 housing units by 2029, more than two-thirds of them affordable.

Failure to meet the quota -- which includes 6,168 affordable units -- carries stiff penalties that include fines and loss of local control over development, according to staff.

The Housing Element Update -- which must be submitted to State housing officials by Friday -- includes "goals, policies, and implementation actions" to meet the mandate for the upcoming eight-year cycle.

If a Housing Element is not adopted by the deadline, the California Department of Housing and Community Development "would consider the City to be out of compliance," staff said in its report to the Council.

"If Santa Monica fails to adopt a Housing Element that substantially complies with State law, or subsequently takes an action that is inconsistent with a certified Housing Element, the City would be at risk of enforcement action from the State," staff warned.

Enforcement actions could include "fines of at least $10,000 per month, and loss of eligibility for grants and state funding programs."

In addition," staff said, "the City could lose control over certain land use decisions related to housing projects if it fails to adopt or maintain a compliant housing element, or if the City fails to demonstrate adequate progress towards its (mandated) targets."

Unlike previous Santa Monica City Councils that embraced the challenge of meeting the State's mandate, the new Council has been ambivalent, at best, about meeting the housing quota.

Last month, the Council voted 5 to 2 to ask a group of Westside cities if it should join an Orange County lawsuit challenging the region's housing quota ("Council Takes Initial Step to Challenge Housing Mandate," September 29, 2021).

Councilmember Phil Brock -- one of three new councilmembers who ran on the slow-growth "Change" slate -- said most residents oppose the "huge allotment" of new housing that would "change the character of the city."

While previous housing elements have relied on private developers to build enough units to easily meet the State quotas, the new plan turns to public land and affordable housing providers, as well as to single-family homeowners.

In order to meet the 6,168 affordable units mandated -- triple the number Santa Monica has built over the past quarter century -- the plan allows moderate-income 100 percent affordable housing projects in targeted areas of the City, especially around Expo light rail stations.

It also earmarks City-owned properties, including parking lots on Main Street and along Wilshire Boulevard, the Bergamot Arts Center and several sites Downtown -- the parcels surrounding the Expo station, Parking Structure 3 and the site at 4th Street and Arizona Avenue.

"City-owned sites have the potential to contribute significantly to the production of affordable housing," staff wrote. "The proposed Housing Element would commit City-owned sites for the production of 100 percent affordable housing."

In addition, the plan adopts standards that would allow developments with at least 50 percent affordable units on surface parking lots owned by religious congregations.

It also allows one additional auxiliary dwelling unit (ADU), commonly known as a "granny flat," on single-unit parcels in R1 zones that have been largely unaffordable to renters.

"Based on past production of ADU’s in the City as well a new state law that have recently incentivized new ADUs, the proposed Housing Element Update anticipates that up to 600 new ADUs could be constructed" over the next eight years, staff said.

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