Santa Monica City Hall (File photo)

The people have spoken. Then City Council spoke for even longer.

On Wednesday night, council debated 33 highlights that have emerged in the formation of the Zoning Ordinance, which will dictate land-uses throughout the city for years to come.

The debate lasted more than seven hours and ended around 2 a.m. on Thursday morning. The meeting came on a night following nearly five hours of public comment on the ordinance.

Council voted on the 33 issues, and members brought up additional issues, but nothing is final. City planners and attorneys will review council’s expressed preferences and are scheduled to return for a final ordinance debate on May 5.

Tier 3 debates

The most heated moments of the debate focused on amendments to a previously-approved planning document, the Land Use and Circulation Element, or LUCE. The amendments would reduce density and the size of allowable projects for areas along the mixed-use boulevards, with the exception of buildings that are 100 percent affordable housing or on properties containing landmarks or structures of merit. Most of this district is located along Wilshire Boulevard.

In wonky, zoning speak, it would remove the Tier 3 designation, which allows 55-foot-tall buildings with floor area rations (FAR) of 2.75.

City planners recommended that the amendments be made but the Planning Commission did not. Council, after contentious debate, voted 4 to 3 to move toward making the amendments, lowering density.

The Daily Press will run a full article on this section of the debate in the coming days.

Wilshire activity centers

Council voted 5 to 2 to move in the direction of pulling activity centers, which allow for higher density development, along Wilshire Boulevard.

Pot shops

Council agreed 5 to 2 to move toward allowing two medical marijuana dispensaries in the city. Councilmembers Terry O’Day and Pam O’Connor disagreed with the proposed allowances, siding with Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks who recommends against the dispensaries. City planners will consider the impacts of pulling Wilshire Boulevard from the allowable areas for dispensaries.

Pico Neighborhood Zoning

Council agreed unanimously to create a separate zoning district for the Pico Neighborhood, which will welcome the Expo Light Rail next year. Other neighborhoods, like Downtown, are already being treated as separate from the citywide Zoning Ordinance.

Unbundled parking rebundled

Council voted 5 to 2 to downgrade the initial proposal that developers offer unbundled parking within half a mile of transit hubs. Bundled parking is when landlords offer parking to every tenant, regardless of whether or not they have a car, essentially tacking on the cost of parking to every apartment. Unbundled parking allows residents to pay extra for their parking space but doesn’t require that they have one.

Council majority suggested dropping the distance to a quarter mile, removing unbundling as a requirement, and allowing developers within half a mile of a transit hub to unbundle if they can show, through a parking study, that it’s feasible.

O’Day, who opposed the changes along with O’Connor, called bundled parking a tax for tenants who don’t own a car and framed the unbundled parking requirement as a test for what he called a best practice for all areas


After the creation of the LUCE, dozens of residential or partial residential parcels (often called A-lots) were mysteriously rezoned as commercial.

City planners have been unable to determine how this change occurred, and some residents put forth conspiracy theories, but the planners now recommend returning almost all the lots to their initial designation.

Council initially split 3-3, with one abstention by O’Connor, on a motion to return all of the lots to their initial designation.

At the recommendation of Councilmember Ted Winterer, they returned all but three properties (those three located on Second Street) to the original designation. O’Connor abstained from several votes throughout the evening.

Mix of affordable housing

Council toyed with the mix of affordable housing required to be built along with Tier 2 projects. Several council members suggested requiring or incentivizing the creation of more 3-bedroom affordable housing units.

Lot consolidation

Developers sometimes combine several smaller properties to allow for the creation of one larger building. Some feel this hurts the character of a neighborhood, creating an out-of-place large building surrounded by smaller ones in the neighborhood.

Council asked city planners to reexamine restrictions against the consolidation of parcels in the neighborhood where lot sizes are typically smaller.

The argument is that allowing consolidation of lots up to 7,500 square feet of total space has different impacts in a neighborhood where the properties are much smaller.

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