If you think that there’s already too much development going on in Santa Monica, be afraid. Be very afraid.
With the dissolution of the redevelopment agencies (RDAs) across the state, Santa Monica’s politicians and bureaucrats are desperately looking for ways to continue their spending spree.
Before the Santa Monica Redevelopment Agency was dissolved, $267 million in RDA funds were set aside to insure completion of a whole raft of projects, including a new Pico Branch Library at Virginia Avenue Park, renovation of the aging Civic Auditorium and creation of Palisades Garden Walk park in the Civic Center, among others.
The biggest chunk of RDA funds — $ 111 million — was earmarked for affordable housing projects over the next couple of years. But, what happens after that? City Hall must source new funding to keep the public housing machine in high gear years from now.
A Feb. 28, 2012 staff report to the City Council stated 306 units of income-restricted housing was under construction in Santa Monica as of Feb. 22 — all of it through the Community Corporation of Santa Monica, which gets plenty of cash from City Hall.
“The largest source of the city’s Housing Trust Fund has been the redevelopment tax increment, which represented 75 percent of the city’s housing trust funds — approximately $100 million over the last 10 years,” the report said. Other revenue includes developer fees ($250,000 to $1.5 million annually over the last decade) and condominium conversion fees.
It continues: “There are currently 3,764 residences specifically affordable for very low-, low- and moderate-income households (7 percent of the city’s multifamily units); 675 more are in construction or have zoning approval for a total of 4,439 residences.”
Affordable housing is a priority for both City Hall and the leading political party Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, or SMRR. Substantially scaling back the race to build more and more subsidized rental units in the future apparently isn’t an option, although it should be a big one.
One of new sources of funding under study is developer fees on hotels, retail projects and creative office space, which are presently exempt.
You can forget about controlling development. These new developer fees will be the key motivator to approve more and bigger projects. The fees will give City Hall’s SMRR politicians the money needed to fulfill their obsession for more and more subsidized apartments — and SMRR voters.
There will then be even less reason to curb growth. New construction will most likely accelerate at a faster pace. That’s bad news for folks who want to put the brakes on new developments because of quality of life issues such as crowding and traffic.
Under the current political regime, the “public benefit” of subsidized housing for the Southern California masses trumps local quality of life issues because there’s no such thing as “too much public housing.”
New pier board connected and aging
At their last meeting, the City Council made appointments to a new, seven member, interim Santa Monica Pier Board of Directors to replace the current 11 member Pier Restoration Corporation Board. Interim directors will serve two-year terms and oversee pier programs and functions such as marketing, community events, filming, fundraising and sponsorships, licensing and community outreach.
More importantly, they’ll also be heavily involved in the pier’s master planning process. The creation and implementation of a new direction and philosophy for the venerable old landmark will be the culmination of their work.
It was important to name people with a new vision, imagination and the ability to think creatively. In looking over the applications for the interim board, as someone with management experience at Six Flags and Anheuser-Busch theme parks, I was impressed with the credentials and backgrounds of most of the applicants who were also new to the political scene.
While city staff and the council could have chosen any number of individuals with extensive experience in creating and managing entertainment venues and marketing tourist attractions, they instead mostly appointed the usual City Hall insiders and political cronies.
It seems the majority of the appointments were made based on political connections and familiarity. A SMRR power player and former council person/mayor who has already served on a whole slew of local boards, commissions and task forces was a top pick.
Three former City Hall department heads including a former director of Community and Cultural Services, a former city manager and a former Big Blue Bus director are among the appointees. The current president of the Santa Monica Convention & Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) was tapped. A retired RAND researcher who had been a member of the old pier board for 15 years was named.
And, finally, a new face — a founder of a destination entertainment consulting firm.
Most of these appointees, especially some former City Hall department heads, have provided input to the pier for years, as has the president of the CVB. So, I’d be surprised if we get anything unique or out-of-the box, let alone an exciting change of direction for the old pier from this clique.
It also appears that the new board members are all over 40 years of age, with most of them in their 60s or older. Not appointing at least one or two young members more in tune with the majority of pier patrons is another misstep.
Save the pier, again? Good luck.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org