Last Tuesday evening, the City Council upheld an appeal of landmark designation for 301 Ocean Ave. Big developers won another victory. Gentrification in the form of more multi-million dollar luxury condos for the wealthy moves forward while the little guy gets kicked in the pants.

Mayor Ken Genser recused himself because he lives near the property. Pam O’Connor, Robert Holbrook, Gleam Davis and Richard Bloom (who along with Genser, accepted a political contribution from developer Trammell Crow’s representative for his re-election bid last fall) voted for the appeal. Kevin McKeown and Bobby Shriver opposed it.

There may be an argument for canceling the designation. The property, whose claim to fame was that it was co-owned by and a 45-year residence of Santa Monica’s first woman mayor, Clo Hoover, is not architecturally significant and has no other meaningful historical value. Clo Hoover’s credentials just weren’t weighty enough to warrant a landmark.

Another item originally on last Tuesday’s agenda (and withdrawn) concerned the Christie Court at 125 Pacific St. in Ocean Park. It’s a 24-unit, 1924-era courtyard apartment building declared a landmark in 2004 even though the building had been stripped of much of its architectural decoration and extensively altered. Tenants and neighbors fought to landmark the building as an early example of coastal courtyard bungalow construction to stop the eviction of tenants, its demolition and construction of condominiums on the site.

The developer appealed the Landmark Commission’s designation to the City Council, who upheld the appeal in 2005 and voided the landmark. The Christie Court still sits boarded up and empty, awaiting the wrecker’s ball. 

It’s a dumb idea to try to landmark a building with dubious historic or intrinsic value as a means to preserve existing older and/or affordable rental stock and avoid evictions. I’m for saving existing rent controlled/low income apartments, however concocting a flimsy story and invoking landmarking for  preserving such residences is an abuse of the process and cheapens that which has real artistic or historic value.  

City Hall and its Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) political machine must be more pro-active in protecting existing apartments and find a better way to do it because using landmarking to prevent new, larger, luxury developments will ultimately only delay such projects and ultimately fail in the end. City politicians and bureaucrats must  develop a more fail-safe method to preserve older housing stock besides creating smokescreens.   

One could argue that the community lost in both cases because connections with our past are rapidly vanishing. But, the real causalities are the tenants, many of whom are singles, seniors, low income workers, retirees, pensioners, and persons on limited incomes who’ve been forced from their homes and the community — some after a lifetime living here.  

I received an e-mail last Monday. It said, “I can’t believe you missed a tremendous opportunity to point out the elderly tenants at 301 Ocean Ave. have no city developed, low income, elderly housing to move to because the city has given CCSM (Community Corporation of Santa Monica, the city’s largest public housing provider) millions for multi-family housing and continues to engage in egregious discrimination against the elderly.” 

The e-mail referred to the fact that in the last decade virtually no deed-restricted senior housing has been funded or built by the city either through its affiliated CCSM or city-supported third parties. In the meantime, CCSM continues to build hundreds of units of two and three bedroom “family” housing, annually. The e-mailer suggested the city purchase 301 Ocean Ave. from Trammell Crow and turn it over to CCSM to operate as public housing for singles, seniors and the elderly. Fat chance of that happening.

On May 19, director of Housing and Economic Development, Andy Agle, issued a memo regarding the city’s affordable housing trust fund commitments. The city acquired a $50-million line of credit of which over $44-million has been given to CCSM for the acquisition, rehabilitation and development of nine properties recently purchased around town. Out of a total of 161 units — strictly for both large and small families — 66 are remodels and not even adding any new housing to the city’s public housing stock!

CCSM solicits potential tenants from East Los Angeles, Watts and other lower income Los Angeles County neighborhoods, as well as a limited number of local workers (who reside out of town with their families) for its public housing projects. 

Wednesday night, City Council prioritized another $43.6 million budget for affordable housing which, like previous CCSM projects, will not go to Santa Monicans forced out of their homes because of gentrification.  

Santa Monica’s long term singles and seniors who’ve been evicted/facing eviction have no place to go because the city has given CCSM millions of dollars to develop SMRR-voter-based family housing while ignoring Santa Monica’s most vulnerable residents. This must change.

Landmark? Indeed.

 

 

Bill Bauer can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com

 

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