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State Bill Could Boost Santa Monica's Affordable Housing, Public Transit Goals


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By Jorge Casuso

April 30, 2018 -- A Santa Monica lawmaker's bill that would create "Transit Improvement Districts" could help ease the beach city's affordable housing crisis, boost its transportation initiatives and create more green space, a sponsor of the bill said.

State Senator Ben Allen's "Neighborhood Infill Finance and Transit Improvement Districts" bill (SB 961), which would create funding districts near public transit, was unanimously approved by a key committee last Wednesday.

Drafted by Move LA, the bill creates special taxing districts "around rail stations and along high-frequency bus corridors," the transportation non-profit said.

The districts "would collect the enhanced tax increment from increased property and sales taxes within the district and use these funds to invest in district improvements," said former Santa Monica Mayor Denny Zane, who heads Move LA.

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Santa Monica already has implemented a planning policy to concentrate most major development near public transit.

If approved, the bill could boost local funding to build more affordable housing and encourage motorists to switch to alternative modes of transportation, Zane said.

"This (bill) does not create development," Zane said. "But as the development occurs, the City would capture more of that money."

The districts would be required to earmark 40 percent of the sales and property tax increment to affordable housing and 60 percent to transit, according to Move LA.

The transit funds would be spent on "stations and programs promoting ridership, transit-oriented development, first-last-mile connections, active transportation, parks, urban greening and urban forestry," Zane said.

Transit funding also would be used for "detached parking structures with no more than one space per residential unit and for groundfloor space occupied by pedestrian-oriented commercial uses," according to a statement issued by Move LA.

Parking revenues "may be used to implement transportation demand management programs to reduce trips."

Last July, the Council approved a Downtown Community Plan that requires 30 percent of the new housing to be designated affordable, likely the highest threshold of its kind in California ("Santa Monica Council Sets Highest Affordable Housing Requirement in State for Downtown," July 27, 2017).

The plan, which will be in place until 2030, is expected to spur the construction of 2,500 new multi-family units, mostly in five-to-seven story apartment complexes (with ground-floor businesses) along thoroughfares near public transit Downtown.

The plan also eliminates the requirement for parking.

Unlike previous bills that created funding districts, voter approval would not be required to issue bonds, but the county would need to concur, Zane said.

Allen's bill also ties the funding to transit initiatives and public housing and does not restrict the districts to low-income, high-crime areas, as was the case with previous bills, Zane said.

Several changes to SB 961 will be incorporated during the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee hearing this week, Zane said.


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