One of the most pressing questions facing us as we consider our first comprehensive zoning update in 30 years is whether we will truly be able to preserve Santa Monica’s existing neighborhoods.

That won’t happen if we turn our backs on the vision in the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE), which we vetted as a community and the City Council unanimously approved in 2010, by eliminating the possibility of building new homes on our commercial boulevards.

As part of the six-year LUCE process, we agreed, as a community, that we wanted to put new homes on the boulevards and near transit precisely because we didn’t want desperately needed new homes to displace long-term residents in existing neighborhoods.

In order to make that happen, we agreed to allow some four-to-five story buildings — all residential above the first floor — on our commercial boulevards. As we are about to adopt a new zoning update, some now want to undo the years of work by the community and limit standards along our boulevards in what would amount to a de facto moratorium on housing there.

By taking away the option to build future housing on the boulevards, we would be setting the stage for a potentially disastrous wave of displacement of long-term residents, many of whom benefit from controlled rents.

Unfortunately, the Ellis Act allows that and the city has no control over this. But the zoning decisions to fulfill the LUCE’s goal to avoid displacement are completely within the Council’s control.

Santa Monica in 1980 was home to 88,314 people. That number has inched up to about 93,000 today. The pressure to build new homes for the people who want to live in Santa Monica has been mounting for 30 years and it will only continue to mount.

For the past 10 years or so, we have been allowing a healthy number of new homes, mostly concentrated in the downtown area. But, we’ve seen that steady, moderate progress screech to a near halt recently. Only 32 new homes have been approved since January 2014.

The LUCE anticipates that we will add 4,955 new homes by 2030. That number reflects Santa Monica’s fair share of housing for the growing regional population. Our great schools, resilient economy, and amazing climate will draw people here. If there will be no new homes built on our commercial boulevards, we will see long-time rental homes replaced by condos at rates similar to what we are seeing in San Francisco.

Make no mistake: We cannot stop Santa Monica from changing, but we can decide if those changes will be for the better. Let’s not turn the LUCE, our community’s roadmap for a sustainable future, into a blueprint for displacement.

Santa Monica Forward is volunteer group of community members, residents and local activists working together for a diverse, progressive, sustainable and equitable Santa Monica. We stand for fact-based, inclusive and civil public discourse.

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