A divided city council advanced plans for the City’s housing element last week after discussions about meeting state mandates expanded to cover possible solutions to questions of historic racial injustice.

Santa Monica must pass a housing element update that accounts for mandates to increase the city’s housing stock by about 9,000 units. The discussion last week centered on options for densifying existing neighborhoods as a way to acknowledge the impact past discriminatory practices have had on housing development.

“At the beginning of tonight’s meeting, from Planning Commissioner Nina Fresco, we saw a very comprehensive presentation about the history of zoning and exclusion in the City of Santa Monica. And I don’t want anybody who lives here now to be taking it personal, but the truth is if you live in an exclusive neighborhood, you have to look at the history and think about who got excluded,” Councilman Kevin McKeown said. “And I think that we as a city council… have to take this really seriously and there’s going to be making some difficult decisions, which I don’t think this motion yet makes.”

He said he wanted to include direction to staff to explore meaningful ways to make housing opportunities available in formerly exclusive neighborhoods to “really create diversity and integration in our community, which I think many people want” and that if Santa Monica made good-faith efforts to meet affordable housing goals, perhaps additional state or federal money would be made available to pay for associated costs.

McKeown said he was motivated to look at the issue by overlaying a map of identifiable housing sites with a historic map of racist redlined neighborhoods. “The conjunction of the two was pretty chilling, frankly, and I think we need to think beyond what has been okay and accepted,” he said.

One proposal in the element calls for prioritizing City-owned land for 100% affordable housing projects.

“Talk about having skin in the game, we’re making it very clear that we embrace the idea of affordable housing in the City of Santa Monica, as we have for many, many years,” McKeown said.

He and others in the meeting proposed a number of potential ordinances that could come back for discussion in the future.

Councilmembers were asked to declare if they support making changes in R1 zoning and Councilmembers Oscar de la Torre, Sue Himmelrich, Gleam Davis and Kristin McCowan raised their hands. McKeown motioned shortly after to direct staff to: explore options to densify areas that historically excluded diverse populations and affordable housing and promote diversity and inclusion in every neighborhood in Santa Monica. Staff was also directed, among other things, to develop a compliant Housing Element that addresses historic discrimination and satisfies Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, explore accessory dwelling unit incentives in R1 areas, including potential for deed-restricted ADUs, and continue to invest in tools and programs to keep Santa Monicans in their homes.

This motion was adopted by Council in a 4-3 vote.

Christine Parra and Phil Brock joined de la Torre in voting no. Brock voiced concerns about the affordable housing overlay zone, which would allow 100% affordable housing projects with a minimum of four stories to be built in residential zones without a limit on density.

“I don’t want to saddle neighbors in the city in any part, and I consider everyone in the city my neighbor, I don’t want to saddle people with a potential four story building next to them,” Brock said before the vote. “This is supposed to be a beachside community. Now look it, I support affordable housing and knowing that we have almost as many market-rate units as we need to fulfill the state requirement gives me some hope because we don’t need to do that much more. So, I do not support maximizing inclusionary housing; I don’t support adding to developer profits when what we need in the city is housing for those in need who can’t afford to live here otherwise. So if you’re going to try and sell me on maximizing market rate housing with some inclusionary I will never vote for that.”

Himmelrich said this week that Council’s robust discussion reflects the diversity of thought in the community about one of our most valuable resources: housing.

“Our motion to prioritize City-owned land for 100% affordable housing demonstrates the deep commitment this Council has to affordable housing production throughout Santa Monica,” Himmelrich added. “And significantly, our focus on fair housing addresses historical redlining and social and economic inequities.”

Once adopted by the City Council on or before October 2020, the Housing Element will guide housing production and preservation in Santa Monica for the next eight years. For more information on the Housing Element, visit www.santamonica.gov/housing-element-update

Brennon@smdp.com