City planners are exploring an emergency ordinance to halt the “mansionization” of Santa Monica by reducing the maximum size of new houses in residential neighborhoods by twenty percent. The planners will present options to the City Council at their next meeting, Jan. 23.

“It’s not rocket science,” City Manager Rick Cole told the City Council Tuesday. “The houses are too big. They are too energy intensive. They change the character of neighborhood and they (infringe) on the quality of life of nearby residents. There are clear ways we can block out those things.”

Cole encouraged the Council to give explicit direction to avoid a long, protracted debate or as he called it “a two election cycle civil war” in single family neighborhoods. Council directed staff to explore an ordinance that would reduce the height of new homes below the current level of 28 feet and reduce the total lot coverage or square footage by 20 percent of what is currently allowed. The new ordinance would not apply to Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs).

“Staff is exploring whether this will be a regular IZO (interim zoning ordinance) process or if it meets the requirements for an emergency ordinance,” said city public information officer Constance Farrell.

An emergency ordinance would be effective immediately upon introduction and adoption at the same meeting. It would be effective for 60 days when first adopted but could be extended up to 60 months. A regular IZO would require a first and second reading and would be effective 30 days later. There is fear a regular ordinance would result in a flood of applications before the new rules go into effect.

The North of Montana neighborhood group did a survey on the issue and 73 percent of 558 respondents said new construction is too large in proportion to neighboring homes. Survey takers also said the new construction tends intrude on neighbor’s access to sunlight.

“It’s too tall, too big, too massive for the area,” NOMA chair Nancy Coleman told the City Council.

Coleman shared the survey results with the Daily Press, which included comments on the importance of preserving neighborhood character, as well as concerns about the loss of property value if redevelopment is restricted.

“Lot value is directly proportional to the amount of square feet a developer can build on the lot,” one person wrote. “If you reduce it by 25 percent you reduce the value by 25 percent…That is the moral problem.”

This is not the first time the city has tried to crack down on supersized homes. In 2000, an update to zoning standards attempted to address “mansionization” concerns. Longtime Councilmember Kevin McKeown lamented, “over time, people looking to make money find loopholes in whatever zoning code you write.”

Staff recommended an interim zoning ordinance that would take a “surgical approach” to address the issue, rather than a comprehensive update. The current standards for residential homes have been in place for decades, however, most older homes did not take advantage of the maximum build allowed by the city.

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press