CITY HALL — A private developer will be allowed to seek tax exempt bonds through the state to finance three controversial senior housing projects in Santa Monica, the City Council affirmed Tuesday.
The decision came over the protests of angry neighbors from the Pico-Euclid neighborhood that decry the project as too expensive, too dense and out of line with Santa Monica’s municipal code.
Members of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church also protested, saying that The Rev. Rubin Ford had no authority to lease the three parcels for the project.
The church formally owns the property at 1754 19th St., and has a ground lease with the FAME Santa Monica Redevelopment Corporation to develop that site.
The other two properties, at 1924 and 1930 Euclid St. and 1753 18th St., respectively, were bought by the redevelopment corporation with a $4.4 million loan from City Hall.
Developer Gary Squier, in partnership with the nonprofit FAME Santa Monica Redevelopment Corporation, requested that City Hall approve the bond measure so that a state agency could offer up to $9 million in tax exempt bonds to help finance the project.
City Hall has no financial obligation for the bonds, but as the local agency, has to give its assent for the California Statewide Communities Development Authority, or CSCDA, to issue the bonds.
At present, total development costs for the project — which will provide 49 affordable housing units for seniors spread across three addresses in the Pico-Euclid neighborhood — come to $16.8 million, with $11.475 million coming from a Santa Monica Housing Trust Fund loan, according to Santa Monica Senior Development Analyst Ava Lee.
Roughly $4 million of that loan has already been used for property acquisition and design for the project, said Andy Agle, director of Housing and Economic Development.
The remaining $7 million is conditional on receiving building permits.
The low- or no-interest bond money and loan will help keep the rents low, city officials have stated.
The matter first came before the City Council as a consent agenda item at its March 22 meeting, which was pulled for discussion after residents of the Pico-Euclid neighborhood protested what they saw as a project that neither fit in their neighborhood nor met the needs of the seniors that are intended to live there.
Concerns focused on what neighbors viewed as inadequate kitchen facilities for the number of residents proposed for the 24-unit parcel, which they felt violated municipal code with the intent of getting a too-dense project approved.
“Deciding on these plans, as approved, has wide implications,” said community member Wendy Lamm. “If it’s approved and built, it’s critical because it sets up precedent.”
Neighbors also took issue with a supplemental staff report, which was meant to answer questions raised by council members at the March 22 meeting.
The staff report was full of “misstatements and half-truths,” said Linas Baskauskas, a resident of the neighborhood.
“This project, as stated, is a charade,” he said.
Squier spoke to defend his project, which he enumerated as one of many low-income senior housing projects he had ushered through both as the former executive director of the Community Corporation of Santa Monica, as well as the director of the Los Angeles Housing Authority under former L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley.
“This project has been debated extensively,” Squier said. “We haven’t cut corners, and we haven’t dodged criticism.”
One member of the FAME church, Beverly Collins, had a different issue to raise.
Collins told councilmembers that Ford had no right to enter into a lease agreement with church property, and had signed documents without the assent of the church trustees, a body of parishioners.
Rev. Ford dismissed the accusation, saying that FAME’s Bishop T. Larry Kirkland Sr. gave his verbal approval of the project.
“There always can be argument about who’s in charge, but ultimately our bishop is in charge,” Ford said.
Council members questioned aspects of the project, including the term of the loan — 55 years — and the ability to give preference to Santa Monica residents and employees.
The 55-year loan allows City Hall to maintain a deed restriction on the properties, ensuring that low-income seniors live in the apartments and that Santa Monica residents get a preference when determining who rents them.
If the city chooses to extend the loans, those restrictions will also be extended, Agle said.
Council members generally supported the concept of the project, but Bobby Shriver noted that it almost didn’t matter what they thought, because affordable housing is part of a fast-tracked process, much of which is handled administratively.
That policy to push forward affordable housing is also why notification, which some neighbors complained about, was relatively poor, he said.
“Policymakers decided that for affordable projects to be built, they have to proceed quickly enough, or without community opposition, or they won’t get built,” Shriver said. “It’s the 800-pound gorilla which we don’t like to talk about because it doesn’t sound democratic.”
Council member Terry O’Day confirmed that the council had little to do but vote on whether or not the CSCDA could issue bonds, rather than the merits of the project.
“The standard of review for us if we were to deny or amend this project is very high,” O’Day said. “I appreciate the concerns raised through the cost and procedure of the church, but I don’t think we have the findings to deny under the standard of review that Mr. Shriver just described.”
The resolution passed unanimously, 7 to 0.