Downtown Community Plan 2017


City Council has given preliminary approval to the Downtown Community Plan with instructions to bring a final version of the document for approval on July 25.

The council made a series of unanimous votes at the end of a six-hour meeting to advance the plan with several revisions.

Council kept a trio of opportunity sites earmarked for larger development, maintained ground level commercial use in the downtown area and streamlined housing development up to 75,000 feet.

Staff said the plan makes no final decision on what will be located on the three sites (1133 Ocean Ave, 101 Santa Monica Blvd. and 4th/5th and Arizona) but does cap any project on those sites at a maximum height/density.

“This does not result in a decision on the ultimate disposition of these sites,” said a City statement following the meeting. “Any proposed projects on these sites will still be required to be processed through a negotiated development agreement, perform additional environmental review, be required to conduct extensive community outreach, and demonstrate how the project meets priorities of the DCP during public hearings and review.”

Staff was also asked to alter traffic patterns at Arizona, create additional protected bike lanes, look for a way to include a dog park downtown, equalize density requirements between areas of downtown, streamline all 100 percent affordable housing projects, eliminate parking minimums and mandate affordable housing on a project by project basis.

Santa Monica already has laws in place that mandate 30 percent of the total housing approved each year must be affordable. However, that rule does not require every project to produce affordable housing and the totals can be met with deed-restricted 100 percent affordable projects offsetting private market rate projects.

The DCP will require every housing project to contain between 20-30 percent affordable units on site depending on the overall size. Those requirements increase to 25 – 35 percent if the housing is built offsite.

Councilwoman Sue Himmelrich cited the affordable housing rules as a significant success.

“I am pleased that after 1 1/2 hours of discussion, the Council adopted an inclusionary housing requirement for the downtown area that requires a minimum of 20% inclusionary units in any Tier 2 or above housing project, including a requirement of 30% inclusionary units for buildings between 70 and 84 feet,” she said. “This is true affordable housing in a range of sizes available to a range of individuals and families from those who earn less than 30% of area median income ($27,050 for a family of four) to those who qualify as “moderate” income under HCD rules ($77,750 for a family of four). Kevin McKeown led this effort with great skill and more patience than I could mustered.”

She said she wasn’t in favor of allowing three sites to build higher and denser than the rest of the zone.

“It was a long two nights and I am certain everyone is unhappy with one or another aspect of our decisions, including the members of the Council,” she said.

Council asked for staff to come back on July 25 with specific information on a set of topics including standards related to a project at 201 Wilshire, ways to accommodate existing downtown nonprofit organizations who want to modify their sites and strategies for incentivizing low-cost hotels.

The most significant discussion occurred around plans to increase housing construction in the Downtown area. Staff had proposed housing developments of up to 60,000 square feet should be approved through administrative channels with limited hearings at the Planning Commission or Architectural Review Board. The Planning Commission had recommended increasing that threshold to 90,000 square feet and the council debated several options for incentivizing housing over commercial projects before settling on a 75,000 square foot limit for fast tracked housing projects.

“I’m pleased that after robust  but civil dialogue on some key issues the Council unanimously endorsed the final revised DCP,” said Mayor Ted Winterer

Councilwoman Gleam Davis said the DCP accomplishes the Council’s goals

“Overall, I think that the DCP is a forward-looking blue print for building out a modern urban core that preserves and protects the things that make downtown such a vibrant part of our community,” she said. “It recognizes the vital role that downtown plays in our economic success and our civic identity.  The council took some concrete steps that will reduce traffic in downtown as well as better allocate existing parking resources.  We also reaffirmed our commitment to make sure that our downtown reflects our city’s interest in the arts and artists.  I am anxious to see if the steps that we have taken to encourage the building of housing–both market-rate and affordable–are successful.  I certainly hope that they are.”

A final version of the document will return to Council for a vote on July 25.

Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...