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Council Discussion Item Signals Split from Previous Housing Policy

Bob Kronovetrealty
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By Jorge Casuso

February 8, 2021 -- In what would be an about face for Santa Monica, three newly elected Councilmembers on Tuesday are asking the City to officially oppose two state bills intended to make affordable housing easier to build.

Councilmembers Phil Brock, Oscar de la Torre and Christine Parra -- who ran on an anti-development slate in November -- contend that Senate Bills 9 and 10 would shift local control of key zoning issues to the state and eliminate community input.

SB 9, according to the Councilmember item, "would override local control over zoning codes" and allow two units on all single-family parcels, which can also be split without public input.

SB 10 would allow as many as 10 units to be built on a single-family parcel, also by administrative approval.

"Each city should have control of their zoning," Brock said. "This is a blatant attempt to have the state dictate local zoning.

The bills, he said, "take away the right of a community to control our own destiny."

The two agenda items mark a split from the housing policies pursued by previous Councils, which have made building more affordable housing a top priority.

Early last year, the Council embraced a state mandate to add 8,874 units by 2028 -- more than two thirds of them affordable -- by streamlining the permitting process ("Santa Monica Scrambles to Meet Housing Targets Other Cities Are Opposing," March 9, 2020).

"We do not know of any other city that is jumping in that aggressively at this point," officials at the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) told the Lookout. "As far as we are aware, Santa Monica is unique."

The eagerness to develop more housing likely contributed to the historic defeat of three Councilmembers on November 3 -- as many in one race as had been defeated in the past 26 years ("EXTRA -- Santa Monica Voters Usher In New Era," November 6, 2020).

The newly elected Council members have expressed concerns that meeting the state mandate would lead to unprecedented growth and erase what's left of Santa Monica's beach town feel.

Tricia Crane, a long-time critic of development and leader of Northeast Neighbors, urged the entire Council to support the agenda item.

"The people of Santa Monica elected you to make policy for our small city, not to bow down to state legislators who seek to take control of our land use regulations," said a letter from the group's board.

"Both SB 9 and SB 10 are based on the unproven notion that greater density will generate greater affordability," the letter said.

"There is no truth to this 'trickle down' approach to zoning and certainly no good reason for city leaders to abdicate their leadership and allow the legislature to take over the zoning of our city."

The sentiment echoes concerns expressed by Brock, who attempted to place the item on a Council agenda last month.

"The theory is that if you build enough, prices will come down," Brock said, "but they won't come down in a beach city.

"They would just add to price pressures," he said. "Santa Monica does not have a housing crisis."

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