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City Can Do Little to Stem Gentrification of Pico Neighborhood, Report Concludes
By Jorge Casuso
November 26, 2019 -- There is little the City can do to preserve the Pico Neighborhood outside of enhancing tenant protections, according to a report released by the Santa Monica Planning Department Monday.
The report addresses residents' calls to use zoning measures to stem the flood of gentrification plaguing Santa Monica's poorest and most diverse neighborhood and build more affordable housing.
But planning officials warn that the two goals are largely incompatible and that there has been little demolition and new construction displacing tenants.
"Most of the residential neighborhood of Pico reflects the allowable residential density of decades ago," according to the report from Planning Director David Martin to the City Council.
"Preserving the cultural and ethnic diversity of the Pico neighborhood can then only be established by protecting the current residents from non-voluntary displacement due to eviction," the report said.
The "Update on Zoning and Housing Research" is a response to a list of recommended zoning changes by the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA) to protect the area's existing residents and affordable housing stock.
PNA's suggestions to prohibit consolidating lots, maintain current parking standards and protect housing from "commercial encroachment" already are in place, staff wrote.
Also in place are protections for the Mountain View Mobile Home Park and efforts to boost the housing stock for extremely low- and very low-income families, staff said.
The PNA's recommendation to downzone Pico Boulevard as Neighborhood Commercial (NC) conflicts with the goal to create more affordable housing, staff said.
The current zoning -- Mixed-Use Boulevard Low (MUBL) -- exists on large parcels and "allows for additional opportunities for affordable housing."
Current zoning standards off the boulevard don't provide incentives to redevelop since in most cases only smaller buildings could be built, staff wrote.
"Although the potential of increased density is not an incentive to redevelop, the potential windfall from sale of redeveloped condominiums or exorbitant home values and market-rate rental costs are," the report concluded.
This poses a threat to tenants who could be evicted or displaced when buildings are reoccupied or redeveloped, staff warned.
As a result, "maintaining, communicating, and increasing tenant protections available to vulnerable renters is key to preserving the existing Pico community representing a diversity of incomes, ethnicities, and cultures."
Oscar de la Torre, who chairs the Pico Neighborhood Association, said the City has found ways to close the airport in 2018 and fight voter districts , battles that are far costlier and more difficult to wage.
"What investment and policy commitment are they willing to make to fight for the diversity of the City?" de la Torre said.
"From what we're hearing so far, not much."
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