I consider myself an average citizen of Santa Monica and I have some questions about what we all hear and read about “affordable housing” in Santa Monica and I strongly suspect I am not alone. It is especially true about the recent column by Santa Monica Forward.The columnsays that there will be future columns related to affordable housing so perhaps they can include answers to these questions.
In the column, Santa Monica Forward states, “Santa Monicans have a long history of showing their commitment to affordable housing” and that “we continue to support the building and protecting homes for low wage workers, seniors and the disabled on fixed incomes” sighting examples like our adoption of rent control in 1979 and Proposition R in 1990. However, I find it interesting that Santa Monica Forward notes those examples to illustrate our unwavering support yet makes no mention of the much more recent election were affordable housing measures M and MM that were rejected by Santa Monicans. Santa Monicans may indeed support affordable housing however the real truth appears to be that they do not do so unconditionally and it would be nice if future Forward columns acknowledged that rather than implying otherwise.
Santa Monica Forward asks the question “Who in Santa Monica does this housing serve?” and answers the question by stating “As we all know, Santa Monica has a very large service sector” and states that “Santa Monica’s affordable housing meets the needs of lower-wage employees who provide us with these services, eliminating the need for long and stressful commutes.” If that is true then applicants for the Santa Monica’s affordable housing, both present and future must be prioritized not only by income but also by the location of their job. Is that true? If so, it is the first time I have heard about it and what happens if the applicant later changes jobs? The answer seems to be, we just build more housing.
Santa Monica Forward goes on to ask,” how is Santa Monica doing in meeting its affordable housing production goals?” According to columnswritten by SMa.r.t.and others in the Daily Press, Santa Monica is actually exceeding goals set by the State of California. So whose goals are we really talking about here? Did “Santa Monicans” come to a community-wide consensus on a goal for affordable housing production that none of us are aware of or are these production goals in “truth” the goals of Santa Monica Forward and SMRR’s?
I think Santa Monica Forward is correct in stating that Santa Monicans have shown their commitment to affordable housing and I think it is fair to say that the diversity that affordable housing helps preserve is one of the many things that most of us like about Santa Monica however one groups opinion related to goals in that regard should not be presented as more than what it apparently is, an opinion.
In their column, Forward says “Community Corporation of Santa Monica (CCSM) is the major local nonprofit developer of affordable housing in the city”. Perhaps in one of Santa Monica Forward’s future columns they can also answer these CCSM questions for us. Do projects built and maintained by CCSM pay property taxes or are they exempt? Is it true that projects built by CCSM are exempt from all the guidelines that many of us “Santa Monicans” care about such as zoning requirements related to parking, height and density and they are also exempt from public review except Building and Safety?
I have lived in Santa Monica for more than 40 years now and was here when Santa Monica’s affordable housing program began. Back then, CCSM went out of its way to help preserve our neighborhoods by designing and building affordable housing projects intended to blend in. That is not true anymore. CCSM projects are now routinely much larger than everything else around them with no regard to blending in. A good example is the new building at 2802 Pico. Could Santa Monica Forward explain what rights you and your neighbors will have should CCSM decide to build one of these large projects next door or on your street?
And now new buildings constructed by the private sector are routinely given zoning exemptions and significant density bonuses for including affordable housing. (See: “Not the whole truth about affordable housing,” from the July 17 edition of the Daily Press.)These large buildings are not just failing to blend in but are in fact, redefining our neighborhoods and will soon redefine our entire city.
Imagine multiple new buildings the size of 2802 Pico Blvd. and larger, side by side lining the rest of Pico on both sides. That’s what the recent development standards supported by SMRR and Santa Monica Forward and adopted by the city council sees as our future and not just on Pico but every major boulevard in the city. Santa Monicans support affordable housing but it seems more and more that the “affordable housing mantra has become a mire guise to push for ever more development in SM at the expense of all the planning and zoning work the people of Santa Monica have worked and pushed for many years. None of that work means anything if these exemptions are going to be a permanent part of the cities approval process, so the questions that really needs to be asked, are how much of present Santa Monica are we “Santa Monicans” willing to surrender and when we do, are we going to like or even recognize the city we get in the end?
James Dufourd is a Santa Monica resident.