CITY HALL – The Planning Commission was not impressed with plans for a 21-unit condominium project proposed for the Pico Neighborhood Wednesday night.
Residents spoke largely in opposition to the project, bashing, among other things, its design, its size, and the impact it would have on the current residents.
Commissioners voted unanimously to continue discussion of the project at a later date, recommending that the developer go first to the Landmarks Commission. The Landmarks Commission would analyze the historical value of the six current buildings proposed for demolition. At least one of the buildings dates back to 1935.
In the current process, the Landmark Commission has authority to override Planning Commission if a project meets a specific set of historic benchmarks but only after the Planning Commission has already approved the project. Two Landmark commissioners, speaking for themselves, noted that the current process could result in wasted time for all the preceding agencies because if their commission deems one of the buildings historically significant, applicants would have to go back to the drawing board.
The project would combine four plots of land on which the six buildings sit. There are currently 15 occupied rent controlled units on the properties. The new building would include 19 market-rate units two units set aside for very low-income tenants.
Neighbors expressed opposition to the project for a number of reasons.
Peter Tigler and Scott Kelso, who both live near the project, objected to its setbacks, design, and the size. They each thought it was too large and did not fit with the character of the neighborhood.
Oscar de la Torre, co-chair of the Pico Neighborhood Association, worried for the families that would be evicted from the current units. The condos, he said, would contribute to the gentrification of the area.
Andrew Hoyer, president of Santa Monica Mid-City Neighbors, was more blunt.
“We are running out the poor people,” he said, speaking for himself, not the neighborhood group. “Is that what we want to be known for here in Santa Monica? We don’t want your poor people. We want them to drive into town and clean our house and do everything else but we don’t need a place for them to stay here.”
Todd Flora, chair of the Rent Control Board said, speaking for himself, that the project is an assault on rent control housing.
“I don’t think this is the first project that’s going to come in and be putting our affordable housing at risk,” he told the commission.
Both Flora and de la Torre questioned the report on the project, assembled by city planners, which recommends that the project be moved forward.
“We feel there is an unusual mix of facts and accuracy in the report that favors the developer and it shouldn’t be like that,” de la Torre said.
Flora said that it “coldly and matter-of-factly mentions that it would displace 15 residents.”
It was Commissioner Gerta Newbold who made the motion to continue discussion of the project at a later date. She said that it was a “bitter pill to swallow” because, for legal reasons, it would be hard for the commission to reject the project.
Many of the issues that the commissioners have with the project are permitted under the current Zoning Code but would not be under the new Zoning Code that the commission is working on. The new code, which will likely be finalized by City Council later this year, will dictate land-uses throughout the city.
City attorneys noted that while the commission can delay the project by asking for changes, they can’t outright reject it unless it presents health and safety concerns.
Chair Jennifer Kennedy noted in closing that she considers eviction a health and safety concern.
“It’s a serious one not only because of what it does to the resident,” she said, “but it ripples out and impacts families and the community.”