Santa Monica Lookout
City Council Sets Priorities for Future Development in Santa Monica
By Jason Islas
February 14, 2013 -- With 35 development agreements (DAs) waiting to be processed by City officials, the Santa Monica City Council Tuesday directed staff to give priority to developments that exceed the onsite affordable housing required and provide a mix of unit sizes.
The Council also decided to move projects that would generate revenue for the City, such as hotels, to the front of the planning pipeline.
But Council members agreed that developers should be given more incentives to build housing that is affordable not only to low-income families but to those families with very low incomes.
Council member Ted Winterer said he was “underwhelmed by the affordability levels staff is suggesting.” Winterer reiterated his belief that developers were not generating enough affordable housing.
Currently, Santa Monica is looking for ways to maintain its supply of affordable housing, after the California Supreme Court upheld Governor Jerry Brown's law axing Redevelopment Agencies (RDAs) throughout the State last February.
That decision eliminated the nearly $15 million in RDA funds the City invested in affordable housing every year.
Staff originally recommended that DAs be given priority if they had 15 percent low-income or very low income units and five percent moderate-income family units.
The Council, however, voted to apply the 15 percent to only very-low income units, while keeping the five percent standard for moderate income units.
Low income households earn 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) a year while very low income households earn 50 percent, according to City officials. That's $45,600 and $37,950 respectively for a household of three.
Moderate income households of three people earn 80 percent of the AMI, or $60,750 a year.
In addition to setting affordability baselines, staff recommended establishing unit size minimums in order for projects to qualify for priority status. Under staff’s recommendation, a studio apartment would be at least 400 square feet, while a one-bedroom unit would be at least 600 square feet.
The Council didn't agree. Council member Gleam Davis said that imposing minimum sizes for units was too dogmatic of an approach, but felt developers should be encouraged to build “liveable” units.
“Livability is as much about design as size,” Davis said.
In the end, the Council postponed any decision on unit size, but instead went with staff’s recommendation to limit developers to 20 percent studio apartments if they want their projects given priority.
In addition, the project would have to provide at least 20 percent two-bedroom units and at least 10 percent three-bedroom units.
Council member Kevin McKeown, however, reiterated that no individual criterion guarantees priority.
He said that even if a hotel would be a boon to the City's economic health, other elements of its DA might make it problematic, such as unresolved labor issues.
The Council also agreed that educational institutions be given priority.
The motion, put forth by McKeown, passed unanimously with Mayor Pam O'Connor and Mayor Pro Tem Terry O'Day absent.
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