Nothing illustrates the disconnect between City Hall and Santa Monica residents like the agenda for city council’s retreat, held Sunday, Aug. 23 at the Ken Edwards Center.

The only discussion item was staff’s recommendation that council establish three to five priority strategic goals for the city with measurable three to five year outcomes. The goal: “Identify game changing priorities that will make a difference in community safety, wellbeing, prosperity, quality of life and sustainability.”

What are City Hall’s top priorities?

1. Providing world-class customer service to the community.

2. Establishing a new model for mobility.

3. Addressing homelessness.

4. Maintaining an inclusive and diverse community.

5. Securing local control of the City land occupied by the Santa Monica Airport.

6. Achieving water, energy and climate change sustainability goals.

7. Safeguard Bergamot and the Civic Auditorium assets as cultural hubs.

8. Providing affordable community-wide gigabit speed fiber and Wi-Fi connectivity.

9. Strengthening downtown as a community hometown, with local-serving and cultural amenities.

10. Expanding and improving the resilience of community infrastructure.

11. Taking community civic engagement to the next level.

12. Building on the partnership with SMMUSD and SMC to emphasize Santa Monica as “a learning community” from Cradle to Career and beyond.

The real issue with the city’s goals is that they’re not the same goals desired by many residents.

As a follow up to its Sunday retreat, council discussed affordable housing and its funding at its regular Tuesday meeting, Aug. 25.

Tricia Crane, chair of the Northeast Neighbors (NN) neighborhood group told the dais that a neighborhood survey conducted in March 2015 revealed different priorities identified by some 400 neighbors who responded to a city-sponsored mailer. They named five concerns: overdevelopment, traffic, parking, water and crime.

Most of the locals I run into support NN’s priorities to a much greater degree than City Hall’s. While I’ve heard complaints about government not doing enough about exorbitant rents, I’ve never, ever had someone say, “We need more affordable housing so low-income people from outside the city can move here.”

But, what was really appalling about Tuesday’s council meeting was the badgering of Crane by councilpersons Tony Vazquez, Sue Himmelrich, and even Mayor Kevin McKeown. Vazquez stated the city hadn’t grown over the last forty years. Vazquez was wrong.

US Census Bureau figures show our estimated 2014 population at 92,987; 86,643 ten years ago; 84,084 in 2000; but 88,314 in 1980. Since 2000, our population has grown a steady and orderly 10 percent.

After Vazquez, Himmelrich, challenged Crane about her statement that “affordable housing” wasn’t really a major resident priority.

This council doesn’t seem to understand that most of the housing advocates they usually hear from are housing zealots, and people with a stake in the affordable housing industry who show up “en masse” at meetings to push their social agenda. Crane told the dais that many residents feel intimidated and fear being called elitists, racists and “against poor people” by fanatical housing supporters.

Sympathetic council members hear only one side of this issue, because they constantly surround themselves with sycophants who share their liberal political agenda. No wonder they’re so delusional on the topic. Yet, Vazquez, Himmelrich and McKeown stood by their guns by implying that NN was anti-affordable housing.

Most councilmembers see those questioning City Hall’s deeply flawed housing policy (which includes no low-income ownership provisions and doesn’t protect existing tenants from speculators who are scooping up older rental properties and buying or forcing long term renters out before renovating and tripling rents) as the enemy. The middle class has also been eliminated as a result of failed policies that only benefit the wealthy and the poor and don’t promote diversity. I wonder is this what “Taking community civic engagement to the next level” is all about?

A staff report (Item 4A) submitted by Housing and Economic Development Director Andy Agle was eye-opening on a number of issues.

The City currently has 4,436 deed restricted residencies. A little over 1,000 units have been acquired and rehabilitated by the city, mostly through Community Corporation of Santa Monica (CCSM).

Nearly 1,000 units are inclusionary units, meaning they were built into mixed use/market rate projects by private developers. They’re a “community benefit,” that enables developers to build bigger, higher and denser projects.

1,845 units are a result of new construction, with its funding subsidized by the City, primarily through CCSM. Another 529 units have been federally funded through Housing and Urban Development (HUD) without City money. HUD assigns tenants from its own lists, which includes political refugees.

Agle revealed that, “the City has exceeded the goals of (1990) Proposition R, with 40 percent of all new housing built over the past 20 years being deed-restricted for occupancy by low- and moderate-income households.” Prop R called for “30 percent of all new multifamily housing be affordable to low- and moderate-income households.”

A number of remedies for continued funding of low income housing to replace monies lost when the State of California dissolved redevelopment agencies a few years ago were presented. Among Agle’s suggestions: cutting city services and diverting general fund monies and/or seeking grants and housing programs from state, county and Federal funding sources.

He suggested increasing the hotel tax, floating general obligation bonds, raising the current sales tax, floating a $344 parcel tax or raising the 10 percent utility users tax (on phone service, cable, gas and electricity.) Increasing the real property transfer tax (a similar measure was defeated in last year’s election) and implementing a new parking tax were also mentioned.

Chances are one of these funding opportunities will appear on the ballot come next election. Council should expect a hornet’s nest of opposition.

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com

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