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New State Housing Laws will Have Little Impact on Santa Monica, City Planning Director Says


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By Jorge Casuso

August 16, 2018 -- The California Legislature had a busy year in 2017 addressing the state's housing crunch, but few of the bills signed into law will have an impact on Santa Monica, according to the City's top planning official.

Of the 15 bills Governor Brown signed last year, only a handful will make a dent in Santa Monica, where the issue is largely being addressed at the local level, said David Martin, the City's director of Planning and Community Development.

In a 14-page report to the City Council this month, Martin " highlights bills that have particular relevance to Santa Monica (and) provides an assessment of their expected impacts."

The bills address the state's "housing affordability crisis" by providing funding, streamlining the development process, increasing local accountability, preserving affordable housing and encouraging inclsionary zoning.

Santa Monica will likely reap fewer benefits from funding measures that target poorer communities and from those that require steps the City already is taking.

These include a document recording fee on certain real estate transactions expected to raise approximately $250 million a year that will likely have no impact on Santa Monica and $4 billion housing bond on the November ballot that will have a limited impact on local multi-family development.

The Multifamily Housing Program (MHP), Martin said, could cover a small portion of development costs of new construction, while "a portion of the bond proceeds are reserved for transit-oriented development and local housing-trust-fund matching grants, both of which could benefit Santa Monica."

A number of bills that streamline the process for housing approvals will likely have no impact on Santa Monica, which already has created such a process for affordable housing in its Downtown and is exploring expanding such measures to the commercial boulevards and Bergamot area, Martin said.

Another bill entitling developers to a streamlined process in cities that fail to meet their regional housing needs assessment ("RHNA") targets also would likely have no impact in Santa Monica.

Staff, Martin said, "believes that the City has met its RHNA obligations" and "the likelihood of an applicant proposing a project with 50 percent of on-site units affordable" to very low income households covered by the bill is "unlikely."

Legislation that increases local accountability for housing production also is already being addressed, Martin said.

"The City has always followed the provisions of the Housing Accountability Act and the City Attorney’s Office has provided guidance to the Planning Commission in this regard," he wrote.

"In light of these changes to the law, staff has added explanatory paragraphs to Planning Commission staff reports outlining the effects of the HAA and the clear findings that must be made for denial."

A bill co-authored by Santa Monica Assemblyman Richard Bloom that restores the authority of local governments to require affordable rental units also would have little impact, Martin said.

Under the bill, "inclusionary housing remains a local decision, with input from local stakeholders, to determine what mix of policies, if any, make sense for their community" ("Santa Monica Legislator's Affordable Housing Bill Clears Key Senate Committee," June 7, 2017).

Some 170 cities and counties, including Santa Monica, have some form of inclusionary housing policy, a practice that dates back to the late 1970s.

"Staff believes that as long as economic analyses demonstrate that development remains feasible, the City would be operating within legal requirements," Martin wrote.

Another bill sponsored by Bloom that preserves existing affordable housing by giving experienced housing organizations a first right of refusal to purchase affordable housing developments "provides additional protections for those properties that are at risk."



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