photo courtesy of Century West Partners

Santa Monica’s sixth Housing Element was introduced to Planning Commissioners this week as city staff continues its efforts to prepare the document that will dictate how the region will meet affordable housing needs for the next decade.

No action was taken by the Planning Commission Wednesday. The presentation was scheduled only to allow staff a chance to update commissioners on the Housing Element’s progress, schedule, and important notes of public input that resulted for local residents last week.

The Housing Element is one of the mandatory elements of Santa Monica’s General Plan, Planning Director Jing Yeo said during a presentation to the commission. It’s basically a housing needs assessment that features updated demographic data, data on housing stock, identifying barriers to the production of housing — both for market-rate and affordable housing.

“We are also asked to evaluate the effectiveness and the progress of the housing element both the programs and production from the last eight years and a sort of key piece of all of this is identifying the sites that can accommodate all those housing needs. And all that kind of feeds into listing the goals, policies and actions that would allow the implementation of all of these policies.”

If it wishes to avoid penalties, The city must adopt the Housing Element Update by October 15, 2021, staff said, mentioning there’s a goal this year to do more with less so the element can have more teeth and result in actual housing production and not simply numbers on a paper, which is a sentiment that hit home with Commissioner Mario Fonda-Bonardi.

“I think we would be better served if we designed a housing element that fits our local needs,” as opposed to SCAG telling the city what to do by when, Fonda-Bonardi said. “Because I think there’s gonna be such a mismatch that is going to be virtually unbridgeable… Because where (is) the $3 billion we need to produce 6,000 affordable units; we don’t have them lying around the house. SCAG doesn’t have it lying around.”

“So because it’s faux planning, it just shows everything that’s been set up for us is a fake process. It has no basis in reality,” Fonda-Bonardi added before Commission Chair Shawn Landres said he finds himself asking many of the same questions.

“It feels more and more like a fool’s errand. And I don’t think we should waste our time and our planners’ time, and our city’s money in this budget crisis doing things that are not useful. You should zero in on the things that are realizable and things that are useful… but 8,800 units is not one of them,” Fonda-Bonardi said.

“I am very curious how we are linking our housing element with our economic sustainability,” Landres said, stating it would also be very helpful moving forward if commissioners understood what tools were available to incentivize the building of affordable units.

Yeo said she recognizes the mandated number of units is high, “and I recognize the frustration we’re hearing from the community.”

But this is a process that was created and mandated by the State, not the city, “so we’re all trying to muddle through this together,” Yeo said. “But I think the intent here is to proceed in line with Santa Monica values in terms of supporting housing, supporting affordable housing — I think that’s precisely what we’re trying to do.”

Prior to the close of Tuesday’s meeting, staff invited residents to provide input on the matter when the Planning Commission meets to discuss the matter again during a study session on December 9.

This article was updated to clarify a quote that was said by Commissioner Mario Fonda-Bonardi and not Shawn Landres.