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Council Says No to Housing in Manufacturing Zone -- For Now

By Susan Reines

August 12 -- The City Council Tuesday night unanimously upheld a Planning Commission decision to keep multi-family housing out of the city's industrial corridor, but left the door open for future housing development.

Weighing the opportunity for more housing against the potential loss of small businesses, the council upheld the commission’s decision to deny a zoning code amendment that would pave the way for a 145-unit apartment complex in the City’s Light Manufacturing Studio District (LMSD).

The council agreed with the commission that granting the request by Colorado Creative Studios could change the entire character of the manufacturing zone, whose industrial buildings and studio housing has kept property values low enough to allow small businesses to flourish.

Agreeing with the commission, the council decided to stick with the current zoning for the manufacturing district -- roughly between Broadway and the10 Freeway from 20th to Centinela Avenue -- at least until the City completes an update of its land use element.

"Yes, housing is critically important in Santa Monica," said Council member Pam O'Connor. "Yet the bigger decision we have to make as a community is do we want to retain a non-residential... base in our city, or do we want to become a totally residential suburb of Los Angeles? And I think that is something that has to be discussed as part of the land use element."

The council voted unanimously to reject the text amendment, but there was support for allowing multi-family housing in the LMSD in the future as part of the land use element update.

Council member Ken Genser said he had expected the amendment to allow multi-family housing, a decision which should be a "no-brainer," and noted that he had disagreed with the council's "less than analytical" decision to prohibit multi-family housing in the LMSD when the decision was initially made.

"I strenuously disagreed with that decision at the time and I still do," he said.

Genser said he joined his colleagues in voting against the amendment Tuesday because the planning commissioners, three of whom attended the council meeting to speak against "piecemeal" zoning changes, had convinced him that "simply allowing housing isn't enough.”

“We maybe have to fine-tune that some and discuss what is the appropriate density, what are the appropriate conditions,” Genser said.

Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McKeown, too, voiced support for allowing housing in the manufacturing district in the future.

"In the long run I hope we don't reject the concept of adding housing to the mix in this, the only district in the city where housing currently is not possible," McKeown said. He added that allowing housing could be an opportunity to build more affordable housing in
the city.

Small business owners and residents lobbied against allowing housing in the manufacturing district, saying property values would skyrocket and drive independent entrepreneurs out of Santa Monica once and for all.

Gregg Amato, owner of Bay Screens and Shades, said his business has been in Santa Monica since 1985. "If this project goes through, we won't be there anymore," he said.

Some residents lamented the potential loss of small businesses.

"Many of these businesses will not be able to relocate in Santa Monica,” said A. Michelle Page, a resident of the neighborhood bordering the district. “These people have been good neighbors for 25 years."

Page and other neighbors also worried that new housing would bring more traffic to the area.

But some council members countered that big development in the manufacturing district was inevitable, housing or no housing, because the zoning allows for large commercial uses such as post-production studios.

"I hope for your sake, in the long term, that what gets developed there is housing, because in truth, housing will probably have the least impact on your neighborhood," McKeown said.

Council member Michael Feinstein said there was "a lot of pent-up energy" to build in the LMSD because developers had been trying to build properties there for years but had been slowed by City ordinances that made approval of large projects difficult.

"I'm not really sure where it's going to go in the future, but I just want to remind people that there are folks there who own this stuff and sooner or later they're going to find something that's going to be allowable there," he said.

In other actions Tuesday, the council unanimously passed a campaign finance reform ordinance that includes a new requirement for committees donating $1,000 or more to a candidate or measure to report the donation to the City Clerk. The ordinance does not apply to donations to Political Action Committees.

The ordinance stemmed from complaints filed by the Santa Monica Living Wage
Commission, which suspected foul play when the City's living wage law was
narrowly defeated by voters in a 2002 referendum.

The council also unanimously approved an update to a City ordinance regulating animals, which includes a prohibition against feeding dogs in off-leash areas, such as dog parks, where feeding frenzies could occur.

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