As the Council debated our proposed zoning update last week, it was evident that many on both sides of Santa Monica’s housing debate believe in social justice.
It became clear over the course of public comment and as the Council voted 4-3 to further restrict housing on the boulevards, that we differ in how we view the scope of social impacts our decisions in Santa Monica have on other communities.
Some who oppose new housing in our city do so with the belief that we have a responsibility to ensure just and equitable outcomes only for those who already live here. Living in Santa Monica comes with many benefits other communities dream of. Santa Monica is a leader in early childhood education, has amazing schools, is at the forefront of creating sustainable, active transportation options, and provides a robust network of social services for residents of all ages.
However, what happens to our concern for justice when we begin talking about the world past Centinela? Is social justice a concept that should only be applied to those of us who already live west of that border?
This is something to consider as the Council, on May 5, will decide whether to reverse a decade of work on the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) as part of a vote on our new zoning ordinance. That day, the Council will decide whether to make substantive changes to the LUCE, further constraining our already-limited options for new homes, including the modest number we had hoped for along our commercial boulevards.
Traffic is perhaps the most visible consequence of our housing policies. We have a large number of jobs but not enough homes by half for workers who commute in everyday. For those working higher wage jobs, there is already a high demand for market-rate housing.
The people who would live here if we were willing to make the space for them do not cease to exist simply because we prevent a new building from going up. Blocking new homes raises the value of our existing apartments and as older, rent controlled units turn over to market rates, we effectively filter all new residents by income level, except for the low-income families lucky enough to get a home in a nonprofit housing complex.
The proposed LUCE amendments, by making it much more difficult to put new housing on the boulevards, lays the groundwork for a potentially catastrophic wave of Ellis activity at levels currently seen in San Francisco. Condo conversions and tear-downs on larger parcels that have been grandparented in will be an unfortunate and unintended consequence if we choose to turn our backs on the community’s vision in the LUCE to direct growth away from existing neighborhoods.
Santa Monica’s current housing problems exist because we haven’t built our fair share in the past. Since 1960, Santa Monica’s population has only grown by about five percent. In the same period, our regional population has nearly doubled.
We support building our fair share of housing — at all levels of affordability — because we believe that we must do all that we can to protect long-time residents living in existing neighborhoods, but also because the decisions we make as a community impact the lives of many other people struggling elsewhere in our region.
There are plenty of people who make too much money to qualify for affordable housing but not enough to compete for the scarce housing we have allowed. When we don’t make room for someone who wants to live here — a young woman who went away to college and now wants to move back, for example — this person doesn’t disappear.
She moves elsewhere in our region. With the whole county racked by a historic housing shortage, turning away this would-be Santa Monican prices out a would-be West L.A. resident who displaces a family in Inglewood or Echo Park, perpetuating a vicious cycle of displacement, poverty, sprawl, commuter traffic, and public health problems.
While we share progressive values, our expectations differ on whether or not Santa Monica should take responsibility for the impacts we create outside our borders.
Why should we try to solve the region’s sprawl, traffic, public health, and affordability challenges? We believe Santa Monica should strive to lessen its role in exacerbating these problems. We have to reject thinking that says, “These problems are too big; we can’t do anything about them.”
By doing our fair share, we can lead the region to a sustainable future with room for working people and the middle class. But by doing nothing, we will widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots, not only in Santa Monica, but in our entire region.
Do we want to make Santa Monica open only to the “1 percent” who have for so long benefited from our nation’s growing wealth gap?
For more information, visit Santa Monica Forward at www.santamonicaforward.org.