“That only took nine and a half years.”
That was Mayor Kevin McKeown’s comment after City Council unanimously passed a new Zoning Ordinance on Tuesday night.
The ordinance, which will dictate land uses throughout the city for years to come, got some last-minute tweaks before a short political discourse and the unanimous vote.
Council had spent hours hearing public testimony on and debating the ordinance in the past month. It will be given a second reading and be adopted, likely later this month. From there, opponents would have 30 days to challenge the ordinance through a referendum if they choose to.
Aside from broader issues surrounding development-related density and height standards, one of the most significant changes will be the allowance of two medical marijuana dispensaries within the city limits.
Dispensaries were previously zoned out of the city of Santa Monica.
The council majority, consisting largely of McKeown, Sue Himmelrich, Tony Vazquez, Ted Winterer, and often Gleam Davis, ratcheted back some of the density and height allowances put forth in the draft version approved by the Planning Commissioners, who debated the ordinance for 33 weeks before it got to council.
Councilmembers Terry O’Day and Pam O’Connor expressed frustration in these decreases.
O’Connor called overdevelopment a “myth” and criticized the council majority, stating that their unwillingness to allow denser and taller development near public transit hubs will lead to a decreased production of housing.
“If you think there’s overdevelopment of housing, if you think too much housing has been built, you need to say that, rather than putting in place policies to impede housing,” she said. “Be upfront that you think that you think there’s too much housing.”
Council repealed several development-friendly sections of the Land Use And Circulation Element, or LUCE, a document meant to guide the creation of the Zoning Ordinance.
“We’re not the progressive city that folks claim Santa Monica is. The LUCE was progressive. It was a progressive document,” O’Connor said. “It limited development to a few strategic locations but now we’re creating a framework that’s going to limit and impede housing development and it’s going to put pressure to redevelop in our neighborhoods and it’s going to put targets on people who live in that neighborhood, especially in rent controlled buildings.”
She said that the ordinance is making Santa Monica into a city for “the one percent.”
McKeown called the ordinance “progressive without being excessive.”
“I disagree with the abuse of the word ‘progressive’ to exclude those whose progressivism includes a willingness to listen to community concerns,” he said.
Himmelrich said the council majority’s zoning standards would protect current tenants.
“There are aspects of the Zoning Ordinance that I don’t agree with,” she said. “I’m sure that’s true of all of us. There have been votes both ways on many things. Some of them I feel more strongly about than others but on the whole I’m happy with the direction that this is taking. I’m happy that we will be preserving more existing housing because our existing housing is our less expensive housing. I believe this will help us to preserve more rent control housing.”
O’Day voted for the ordinance, he said, because on balance it is an improvement from the previous Zoning Ordinance.
“I’ll be voting for this but I am voting for this in recognizing that it is better than the Zoning Code we have now,” he said. “It is a step backwards from the LUCE vision and in particular in some of the categories that Councilmember O’Connor articulated, around neighborhood preservation and sustainability but particularly with regard to housing.”