OLYMPIC HS — The leading political party in Santa Monica is sharpening its stance in favor of residential development over commercial space as City Hall prepares for a final series of meetings to complete its general plan update.

Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, which has backed a majority of the sitting City Council members, held its bi-annual meeting to update its platform on April 25, amending its “guiding principles” document to emphasize that only residential space should be permitted above ground level in new mixed-use projects, and stating that new projects should include residential units on the ground floor to better accommodate elderly and disabled residents.

About 100 members of SMRR — an organization that comprises some 4,000 residents — voted on the changes, said SMRR Chairperson Patricia Hoffman.

The additions to the party’s platform come as City Hall is gearing up for its final series of meetings on its Land Use and Circulation Element, the long-range planning document the City Council is expected to adopt this summer.

To some members of the group, the changes suggest there will be a spirited debate about significant details of LUCE in coming months, as development interests are expected to argue against a rigid ban on above-ground-level office space.

Developers can generally increase rental income by increasing the percentage of floor-area in a project devoted to office uses, in part because of City Hall’s affordable housing requirements for residential space.

Although an “overwhelming majority” of SMRR members present for the meeting voted to adopt the provision that “land-use policy should allow only housing above the first floor on commercial boulevards thereby enhancing affordability, sustainability, and preservation of neighborhood character,” Hoffman said some members felt the language didn’t allow developers enough flexibility.

Some members, including Mayor Pro Tem Pam O’Connor, said the provision could limit developers from creating upper-story office space that might accommodate local businesses. Others said it could make it harder for nonprofits to find space.

Despite some dissent, though, Hoffman said the updated principles reflect the majority’s belief that “where there’s development, we’d like to see it focused on housing rather than commercial development.”

The first of four Planning Commission meetings to discuss the LUCE’s final environmental impact report is scheduled for May 6 at 7 p.m. at City Hall. City Council meetings on the LUCE are set to take place in June.

nickt@smdp.com

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