Update, February 22, 10:00 a.m. – The City of Santa Monica emailed a statement last night clarifiying that it was Palmdale that initially reached out to the city last December and the only contact has been an introductory meeting. The full statement is available at the end of the article.
According to an article in the Antelope Valley Daily Press, the Palmdale City Council voted to empower City Manager Ronda Perez to continue discussions with the City of Santa Monica about a potential deal where Santa Monica would send money or resources to Palmdale to shift some of Santa Monica’s requirement to build new housing to the desert city 60 miles to its north. While there were almost no details to the proposal, the council encouraged Perez to negotiate with Santa Monica by a 4-1 vote with only Mayor Laura Bettencourt in opposition.
“I am wholeheartedly, 100% against this and I would probably fight this with every breath in my body,” said Bettencourt.
While she may not have found allies on the dais in Palmdale, she does have one with her fellow-Mayor at the other end of this possible deal. Santa Monica Mayor Gleam Davis appears to have heard of these discussions for the first time when reading the Antelope Valley Daily Press, and expressed her opposition and frustration on social media.
“As the Mayor of Santa Monica, I want to be clear that the Santa Monica City Council has not directed staff to pursue this proposal,” wrote Davis on Twitter. “I do not know who discussed this with folks from Palmdale but they did so without authorization from the Council.”
Councilmember Jesse Zwick took it a step farther, blasting the proposal as “Illegal” and “Immoral” before adding “I for one would like to learn why the city of Palmdale is under this impression.”
Despite the protestations of Davis and Zwick, there likely was some sort of discussion ongoing. How else could one explain SB 809, legislation introduced in the last state legislative session that would allow transfers of housing obligations introduced by Senator Ben Allen who just-so-happens to represent Santa Monica? Such transfers are illegal under current law, and Allen’s bill received no hearings or votes but did receive some support from California cities such as Rancho Palos Verdes.
While we may not know the details and behind the scenes workings between the two cities, we do know the situation that could lead to such a discussion. In short, Santa Monica bungled its first attempts at meeting its housing requirements so badly that it temporarily lost control of its right to zone its own city last year. In the panic that followed developers being able to get automatic approval for “shovel ready housing projects” for a couple of weeks, it’s hard to believe that every idea wasn’t on the table.
The longer version of the story starts when the state legislature and governor passed legislation that required all regions of the state to create plans to increase housing stocks. The regional planning association known as the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) was charged by the state with dividing construction of new housing to cities across the region to meet the state’s housing goals by 2029. The Regional Housing Needs Assessment, or RHNA, requires Santa Monica to build 8,900 new units in this time. Palmdale has to build 6,640. According to Perez, the negotiations between the cities had not reached a point to discuss how many units would be transferred, or how much the theoretically richer City of Santa Monica would pay for this transfer.
As noted above, Santa Monica’s attempt to skate around this requirement led to a housing element of its city plan that was rejected by the state. Without a plan in place, the so-called “builder’s remedy” for out-of-compliance cities came into effect in Santa Monica whereby builders were able to get blanket approval for 4,000 units of housing without having to go through a zoning or public process. While the city worked quickly with the state to close the loophole, those units are already considered approved…some in developments so large they never would have gotten approval under the city’s regular zoning codes.
As noted in the update, the City of Santa Monica sent a statement on this article last night. It reads, “At the request of the Palmdale City Manager, officials from Palmdale and the City of Santa Monica held an introductory meeting last December to discuss the two cities’ respective housing production obligations and resource needs. City of Santa Monica staff have had no further discussions with Palmdale officials since, and any further engagement would not be authorized without direction from the Santa Monica City Council. The Santa Monica City Council has not discussed or provided any direction on this item. The Santa Monica City Council looks forward to continuing discussions regarding implementation of its 6th Cycle Housing Element, as certified by state officials in October 2022, at its next meeting on February 22.“