Nonresidential developments in Santa Monica and single unit dwellings in the city’s commercial zones may soon be temporarily banned by City Council.

Like many municipalities in the region, the City of Santa Monica is currently crafting its Housing Element, which is prepared every eight years to analyze the community’s housing needs and detail data on housing stock and demographics. One of the most important aspects of the process, city staff previously said, is the document’s Suitable Sites Inventory, which identifies barriers to the production of housing — both for market-rate and affordable housing.

Currently, staff is in the process of preparing a draft SSI for the 6th Cycle Housing Element. However, in recent years, the city has seen an uptick in applications submitted for non-residential development on potential housing sites in the city’s commercial districts, which have the potential to house some of the 8,895 units that Santa Monica is currently mandated to build between 2021 and 2029.

Since the city’s housing allocation nearly doubles previous figures and only 3% of the City’s total land area is available as the highest potential for housing, staff said, “the turnover of even a handful of sites to non-residential development instead of housing projects would greatly impact the City’s ability to have sufficient sites for the SSI and would very likely hamper future Housing Element updates.”

“As a result, a temporary prohibition on non-residential development is proposed to ensure that the Housing Element Update has the opportunity to evaluate all available areas of the city for housing potential. This would not implicate housing projects meeting the definition of a housing development project in the Housing Accountability Act,” according to staff, but the proposed ordinance is likely to only apply to applications submitted after January 12, 2021, the date that Council first gave direction to staff to prepare emergency zoning regulations.

In order to ensure that potential housing sites are also not underdeveloped, it is also proposed that single-unit dwellings be temporarily prohibited in all commercial zones since there is greater access to transportation systems in these areas and the City’s adopted growth strategy already contemplates housing production along the commercial boulevards

Along with an uptick in the number of applications for non-residential development on commercial boulevards in recent years, staff has also received recent inquiries for single-unit dwellings in commercial zones on the boulevards. And while the Zoning Ordinance has permitted single-unit dwellings in commercial zones for decades, this allowance does not maximize the housing potential for the limited number of potential housing sites and therefore, is being re-evaluated in light of the City’s requirements for the 6th Cycle housing element.

“There is growing concern that as this trend continues in the context of the Housing Element Update,” staff said, “the City will be precluded from the opportunity to plan for the possibility of housing on these parcels.”

Additional Agenda Items

Prior to Tuesday’s meeting and Housing Element discussion, City Council is expected to meet for a closed session that will feature a consultation with Santa Monica Police Department Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks on the security of public buildings or essential public services.

“Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks will share with the City Council confidential details about the Santa Monica Police Department’s preparations to protect public safety and critical public services in the event that pending national developments produce unrest on a local level that poses a threat to public buildings or essential public services,” City spokesperson Constance Farrell said Wednesday, adding, “There are no known threats to Santa Monica at this time.”

Prior to the conclusion of Tuesday’s meeting, Council is also set to discuss the possibility of using an affordable housing overlay such as the one adopted in Cambridge, MA or the one contemplated by Berkeley. The item was put on the agenda by Councilmember Gleam Davis, and staff is expected to return with a recommendation on the matter some time in the future.