A new 300-page policy framework for development along the city’s coastline is heading into its final stages but concerns remain over two key policy areas: parking and short-term rentals like Airbnbs. A March letter from the state’s official authority on beach access, the California Coastal Commission, worries some of Santa Monica’s proposed policies could hurt visitor access.
On Wednesday, the Planning Commission will consider those concerns when they decide whether to recommend the Local Coastal Program Land Use Plan (LUP) in its current draft. The LUP will then head to the City Council in August before it is submitted to the Coastal Commission.
The wide-ranging plan outlines development standards for about 1.5 square miles between the Pacific Ocean and 4th Street north of Pico Boulevard and Lincoln Boulevard to the south.
The Coastal Commission is concerned reduced parking standards for new development downtown will increase demand at other parking garages and along city streets, according to a letter sent to city staff. The letter points out residents have already asked for preferential parking in many areas, suggesting there is not enough street parking to accommodate tourists and locals.
“Allowing for residential developments to have reduced parking will further exacerbate the problem of insufficient residential parking,” said the letter signed by Amber Dobson and Daniel Nathan.
In addition, climate change studies suggest beach parking lots could be impacted by sea level rise over the next fifty years. While the LUP contains language on moving facilities inland in the event of major sea level rise, the city exempts itself from replacing parking lots.
“If this inland parking is already encumbered and impacted by inland uses, then there will be little available coastal access parking,” the letter said.
In response, senior planner Elizabeth Bar-El says the Commission’s focus on parking is “diametrically opposed to the city’s mobility policies” that seek to reduce the number of people driving in the city. Unlike other coastal cities, Santa Monica has light rail, bus and bike lanes intended to diversify transportation and reduce traffic and carbon-emissions caused by cars.
“Santa Monica Beach is so popular that its future sustainability relies on increased access by transit and few visitors choosing to drive, and park, at the beach,” Bar-El said.
Short term rentals:
Coastal Commission staff is suggesting a require all new hotels provide at least 25 percent of the units as lower cost accommodations, either on-site or at some other property in the coastal zone. If a low-cost hotel is redeveloped, the Coastal Commission says cheap rooms should be replaced at a one-to-one ratio, either on-site or within the coastal zone. Staff also suggests an in-lieu payment option that would go into a city fund.
In addition, the Commission says Santa Monica shouldn’t take Airbnbs completely off the table.
“This policy should be modified to include the possibility of providing short-term vacation rentals as another option to meet State Coastal Act intent to provide lower cost visitor accommodations,” the letter said.
Over the past few years, the Commission has required some cities to allow short-term vacation rentals in their coastal zones. The city of Santa Monica only allows homesharing at the moment, requiring the homeowner or host to be present during a vacation rental. The city says this protects housing for residents.
The city disputes that Airbnb-style rentals in the coastal zone are much cheaper than most hotel rooms, anyway.
“Based on rental rates for existing units within the coastal zone that are (illegally) advertised on Airbnb, Homeaway and other platforms, it is highly likely that the Coastal Commission would not even consider these accommodations to be lower cost,” Bar-El said.
According to the report, about 7 million visitors access Santa Monica’s coastal zone every year.
The Planning Commission will meet Wednesday, July 18, at 7 p.m. inside City Council Chambers, Room 213 at City Hall, 1685 Main St.