The dust is settling from the recent zoning ordinance update and downzoning amendments to the city’s Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE).
It will take some time to really understand the impact of the decision to eliminate the possibility of 4-to-5 story mixed-use (and mixed-income) housing projects along most of the city’s major boulevards, but there has already been a significant impact on the number of projects — subject to negotiated development agreements (DAs) — in the pipeline.
Twelve of the 28 DA projects that had been waiting for approval before the zoning update are now considered “inactive, meaning they do not meet the priority processing criteria established by the City Council and/or the applicants have not been actively engaged with the City to move projects forward,” Santa Monica’s Planning Director David Martin wrote in an email to Santa Monica Next Tuesday.
DAs allow the city to negotiate with developers to get community benefits, like deed-restricted affordable housing, built into a project. When anti-growth activists killed plans to build housing and offices at the abandoned Papermate factory across the street from the future 26th Street Expo line station, Santa Monica lost nearly 100 deed-restricted housing units, including 24 reserved for extremely low income tenants. Because the project was negotiated through the DA process, the Council had also been able to assure that some of that affordable housing would benefit seniors specifically.
So, how much housing is left? How much did we lose?
“Of the 16 [remaining] ‘active’ projects, 11 are mixed-use housing projects, with a total of 1,136 units,” Martin wrote.
Then there are the three proposed hotels along Ocean Avenue and the 4th/5th and Arizona project. Combined, the four proposed projects would include 279 units of housing, bringing the total number of new housing units on the table to 1,415.
But, “it’s important to remember that these numbers are only what is in the applications,” Martin said. “As Development Agreements, these projects are all subject to negotiation and the actual number of units will likely be different than what is currently proposed.”
Through the DA process, which involves extensive community input, project designs change and project size is sometimes reduced.
It’s also worth noting that it will likely be years before most of these projects make it through the planning and DA negotiation process before construction can start on them.
The proposed projects, if they are all built exactly as proposed (which will likely not be the case), brings us to a little over one-fifth of the 5,000 new homes the LUCE projects we will built by 2030. Of course, there is another discussion over whether 5,000 new homes in 15 years is really enough considering the gravity of L.A. County’s housing supply crisis and the impact it is having on housing prices and threatening the housing security of long-time rent-control residents.
What about the projects that are now inactive?
Ten of the 12 now inactive projects were mixed-use housing projects, Martin said. Why?
“They don’t meet the priority processing criteria because of the mix of unit types or the levels of affordability,” he said.
“We expect that in most cases these projects will be redesigned to meet the priority processing guidelines or they will come back as Tier 2 projects,” he said.
Tier 2 are smaller multi-family projects that require a less onerous approval process, but unlike the Tier 3 DA projects the council doesn’t negotiate with the developer on these projects, meaning the city cannot get as many benefits. While some amount of affordable housing will come from Tier 2 projects, it is less than what could be negotiated through the DA process.
So the question remains whether Santa Monica will be able to hit its 2030 housing targets and whether, of the new housing, enough of it will be affordable. That was one of the concerns of Councilmembers Gleam Davis, Terry O’Day, and Pam O’Connor when they opposed amending the LUCE last month.
“If we are genuinely worried about gentrification, what we need to do is build housing options for the wealthy people who will find a way to make it to Santa Monica that doesn’t involve evicting existing tenants,” Davis said at the May meeting. “And that was really the LUCE vision.”
City Councilmember Ted Winterer, who supported removing Tier 3 mixed-use housing projects from Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards — while preserving them along Broadway and Colorado — is confident that the city will still be able to meet its housing goals.
The Council plans to take a look at the impact of the LUCE revisions a year from now to see what the impact was, especially on the amount of housing that actually gets produced in the city.