City Hall is asking a developer building 19 condominiums in the Pico neighborhood to make some of the units affordable after some nearby residents said the project would accelerate gentrification in the area.
The developer, Behzad Soroudi, originally planned to build 21 condos in a two-story building at the corner of Virginia Avenue and 21st Street and designate two of them as affordable. In 2014, the Planning Commission asked him to remove two condos to make the design of the building more consistent with the neighborhood and improve the site’s landscaping. Soroudi then elected to pay an in-lieu fee to the City of Santa Monica’s affordable housing fund.
But when the Soroudi returned to the Planning Commission Feb. 6, several residents said they were concerned that the commission had allowed the affordable units originally proposed to be eliminated, given that the condos will replace 15 rent-controlled units spread across six one-story buildings on the site.
“This development will change the character of our neighborhood and displace long-term residents of the 15 rent-controlled units,” said Pico Neighborhood Association co-chair Oscar de la Torre.
De la Torre and two other Pico residents said they felt the project would gentrify the historically Latino neighborhood and that the developer should provide units that people who live there can afford.
“People looking to move into Santa Monica move into Pico without understanding the neighborhood and its history,” de la Torre said. “People are being displaced who live here, work here and have children in schools here.”
Several commissioners said they want the project to include affordable units and, rather than approving the project, passed a motion to direct City staff to work with Soroudi on how to do so.
“In Santa Monica, we place a very high value on having affordable housing units as part of any development, but you’ve removed them, and this Pico neighborhood is perhaps the most challenged socioeconomic area (of the city),” said Commissioner Richard McKinnon. “I see no affordability in this project and no interest in giving it to us, and that is a disgrace.”
Soroudi said he wanted to include two affordable units but the recommendations the commission made on the project in 2014 reduced the number of condos, making it less feasible to set some of them aside for low-income renters.
The commission said the building should be set back from the sidewalk on 21st Street as if it had a front yard like the other houses on the block, Soroudi said. It also asked him to increase the size of the courtyard, which he said meant he had to eliminate the two units he had planned to build in that space.
Soroudi said the loss of the two units made the project less profitable and took away financial incentives to build affordable units that were associated with the density of the original proposal.
“We wanted to have affordable housing,” he said. “The City made us do this.”
Roxanne Tanemori, the City’s acting planning manager, said Soroudi could still provide affordable units in a building with 19 condos.
“Staff’s position has never been that in the context of the 19-unit proposal that the applicant could not provide affordable units,” Tanemori said.
In the motion the commission passed to continue the project, Commissioner Jason Parry suggested that staff explore a compromise on the building’s distance from the street that would allow for 21 units.