On Wednesday, City Council debated dozens of issues presented in the new Zoning Ordinance but only a few of the votes went 4-3.

A majority of the plans for the ordinance, which will dictate land uses throughout the city for years to come, were agreed upon unanimously or faced two holdouts — Councilmembers Terry O’Day and Pam O’Connor — but discussion over Tier 3 development on the mixed-used boulevards was contentious.

Tier 3 development would allow 55-foot-tall buildings with floor area ratios of 2.75.

Floor area ratio, or FAR, is the ratio between the total floor area in a development and the amount of the parcel that a building uses. The higher the ratio, the denser the project.

Council decided, after much debate, to move in the direction of eliminating Tier 3 development along the mixed-use boulevards — excepting certain locations near Downtown — unless the project is 100 percent affordable housing or the property contained a designated landmark or structure of merit. Most of this zone covers Wilshire Boulevard.

City planners recommended the elimination of Tier 3 development in this area but Planning Commissioners did not. O’Day, O’Connor, and Councilmember Gleam Davis vehemently defended the allowance of more Tier 3 development in this area. Throughout the night, Davis often sided with Councilmembers Kevin McKeown, Tony Vazquez, Sue Himmelrich, and Ted Winterer — the four council members that most frequently oppose larger developments — but not on this issue.

She pushed to allow for Tier 3 development for projects that are 100 percent residential above the ground floor.

Himmelrich rejected this idea, arguing that it would challenge the creation of affordable housing.

O’Connor jumped in, explaining that affordable housing — thanks to the dissolution of the redevelopment agency — can’t be financed without the community benefits that result from larger market rate residential projects.

She said that affordable housing providers wouldn’t look to build at Tier 3 levels.

“I guess you could say, ‘I’m only for affordable housing and heck with anybody who has some success in life, who wants to live in Santa Monica, who came home after they went away to college, and happened to get a good education, so they’re not living at the level that they would qualify, but we don’t want to build housing for them. We don’t them to live here,'” O’Connor said.

In voting against the recommendation to cut back Tier 3 development on the mixed-used boulevards, she called the ordinance the “rich get richer zoning code.”

“You can beat your chest and say I’m for affordable housing,” she said, “but you’re not going to see much of it built.”
Davis agreed.

“If we limit this to affordable housing we will never get affordable housing for seniors who are on retirement,” she said. “We will never get affordable housing built for people who are on disability. The only way we’re going to get those kinds of units is if we make them inclusionary and put those type of requirements in a Tier 3 type of development where we can do some type of negotiation.”

Davis also said that the elimination of Tier 3 projects would do little to improve the walkability of Wilshire.

“If we want to transform Wilshire, and maybe we don’t, that’s another thing we should be honest about: We like Wilshire the way it is. Chase bank building, car wash, the occasional restaurant, one story, no housing, that’s fine. But lets be honest about it because unless you start to build some density along the boulevards you’re not going to transform the boulevards,” she said.

Finally, she said that the city suffers from “affluenza.”

“We have a lot of rich people here,” she said. “What I see, then, is we’re going to have 100 percent affordable housing and then we’re going to have everybody else. We are going to be the epitome of what is wrong in this country, which is we’re going to have people who can live in subsidized housing and rich people and we’re not going to have a middle class.”

“I think we have it right now,” Vazquez said in response to the claim that Santa Monica will have a wide gap between the rich and the poor. “All the housing we have now is for the rich.”

Council will revisit the issues and potentially finalize the Zoning Ordinance at their May 6 meeting.


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