By Daniel Larios
August 7, 2014 – The largest affordable housing development financed by the City of Santa Monica and the last installment in the $350 million Civic Center Village project held its grand opening last week, and already its fully occupied.
A diverse mix of families and artists have moved into the Belmar Apartments on City-owned land adjacent to Tongva Park and City Hall. Built by Related California, the complex offers 160 affordable housing units -- from studios to three-bedroom apartments.
A major highlight of the community is the new “Living Street,” a walk street through the center of the village, said Chris Texter, a principal at KTGY Group Inc., which designed the project.
The street, Texter said, provides “a pedestrians with a connection from Main Street to Ocean Avenue through a great assortment of retail, restaurants and outdoor dining, and public art,” said Texter. “Some artists are already displaying their work in their live/work studios.”
Mayor Pam O’Connor called the project “an important milestone in advancing Santa Monica’s commitment to creating affordable housing opportunities and economic diversity.”
“The highlight of the (grand opening),” O’Connor said, was “a single mother with three children, told their story of moving from her one-bedroom apartment to her new unit--and how much the children love it. I look forward to seeing them around town.”
The project was the subject of controversy when it was approved by the City Council in 2007. Council members Bob Holbrook and Bobby Shriver, as well as slow growth activists, objected to the 96 foot tall building next to the Viceroy Hotel.
“Barely half of the units will be ‘affordable,’” said Peggy Clifford in an open letter to the City Council in 2006. “It will make an already congested area more congested, and its height and mass will overwhelm what is arguably the most beautifully situated publicly owned open space in the city.”
In 2002, the City Council had initially recommended a general height limit of 56 feet, then upped the limit to 65 feet in 2006. Although the 65-foot recommendation remains in the design concept plan, an alternative plan featuring one 96-foot residential building was chosen.
In addition, the City Council in 2011 narrowly approved an amendment that would allow the developer to extend the lease from 99 years to 149 years after the first 75 years.
Most of the families moving into the new apartments already lived or worked in Santa Monica, and finding affordable housing near their jobs, schools, and extended family members has been life-changing for many of them, said officials.
Monica Ayala, who works at a grocery store on Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica, recently moved to the Belmar Apartments with her three children. Ayala called the day her family qualified for an apartment “the best day of our lives.”
In addition to apartment units, Belmar residents have access to a fitness center, computer lab, outdoor lounge and barbecue grills, bike storage and a resident community room.
The apartments, along with the high end condos already built on the site, will mark a return to housing. The city sold the land to the Rand Corporation in the early 1950s after using it for an emergency housing project serving local World War II veterans and their families.
Rand built a sprawling campus with low-slung concrete office buildings and surface parking lots.
In 2000, Rand sold most of its campus back to the city for $53 million and demolished the old buildings. The corporation built a new headquarters on the land it retained that faces Main Street.