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Palmdale Council Votes to Explore Housing Deal With Santa Monica

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By Jorge Casuso

Editor's note: This article was updated at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday to include a statement from the City of Santa Monica.

February 21, 2023 -- (UPDATED) A skeptical Palmdale City Council last week voted to continue conversations with Santa Monica City officials to build State-mandated housing in the inland city in exchange for cash.

The "new business" item on the agenda called for exploring a "possible partnership" between the "land poor" beach city and "land rich" Palmdale, said City Manager Ronda Perez.

The proposal is "very much in its infancy stage" and involves the "potential transfer of some housing units in exchange for money," Perez added.

The proposal -- which would require legislative action -- would transfer some of the 8,895 new units, 69 percent of them affordable, Santa Monica must plan to build to comply with its State mandate.

Palmdale, where land is far cheaper and more plentiful, must plan to add 6,640 units over the next eight years to meet its State quota.

The information item was adamantly opposed by Mayor Laura Bettencourt, who feared it would bring Santa Monica's urban problems to the Antelope Valley city of some 170,000.

“I am wholeheartedly, 100 percent against this, and I would probably fight this with every breath in my body,” Bettencourt said. "It's a terrible proposal.

"They're offering 100 million dollars for us to put housing units in the City of Palmdale," she said. "That doesn't build the housing they're talking about."

If such a plan were approved, Palmdale would "endure an eternity of traffic, congestion, air quality issues, lack of jobs and more people on the 14 Freeway," the mayor said.

"This flies in the face of what we're trying to do to improve our community."

Ciy Manager Perez stressed that the conversation with Santa Monica officials is in its preliminary stage and no details or numbers have been discussed.

But she also informed the Council that Palmdale's new Assemblymember Juan Cabrillo supports such a transfer and was paving the way at the legislative level.

"This would require the legislature to allow it," Perez said. "I believe our Assemblymember would be interested in authoring or carrying some legislation to this effect."

Mayor Bettencourt was angry she didn't learn about the "backroom deals" that had taken place with Santa Monica officials and demanded several times to know who had approached Palmdale.

"I'm wondering why this happened without the mayor being notified," Bettencourt said. "No one from Santa Monica has reached out to me personally as the mayor of this City.

"Who are we talking to in the City of Santa Monica? Give me a name."

There was no answer.

"I don't like backroom deals," Bettencourt added before casting the lone opposing vote. "Let me say this publicly. I do not like backroom deals."

Although skeptical, the Council voted 4 to 1 to continue conversations with Santa Monica, saying they would be interested in adding workforce housing and housing that serves as a pathway to home ownership.

"They're in desperate need," one Councilmember said. "If they're going to come up with lots of money, let's hear it."

The City of Santa Monica issued a statement Tuesday saying that local officials had met with officials from Palmdale at the request of the Palmdale City Manager "to discuss the two cities’ respective housing production obligations and resource needs."

"City of Santa Monica staff have had no further discussions with Palmdale officials since, and any further engagement would not be authorized without direction from the Santa Monica City Council," the statement said.

"The Santa Monica City Council has not discussed or provided any direction on this item."

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