Santa Monica Housing Commissioners first declared their support for the demolition of Parking Structure 3 to make way for affordable housing back in 2018, but the project has been on the back burner in the wake of resident backlash and the COVID-19 pandemic. However, two important developments in recent weeks have city leaders once again expressing their excitement for the proposed affordable housing project.

Housing Commission Chair Michael Soloff said recently that the project has moved at a snail’s pace since the City agreed to conduct a Request For Proposals. The delay has frustrated many of his peers on the local Commission, according to Soloff, but a recent Coastal Commission ruling and proposed City budget have restored a belief that the project will one day come to fruition.

After hearing from dozens of local residents and stakeholders during a meeting held earlier this month, the Coastal Commission unanimously confirmed the City’s right to demolish the structure. Soloff said the ruling also made it possible for the city to obtain tax credits in the future that will allow it to deliver a clean site to whatever nonprofit housing provider is selected to create the project.

“So that was a very important step forward in making this a reality,” Soloff said, noting at least four different members of the Coastal Commission expressed their appreciation for Santa Monica being willing to build affordable housing in the coastal zone.

City staff said the next step in the process is dependent on restoring Covid-related cuts to the Planning Department that could finalize the evaluation of the various proposals and bring a recommendation to City Council. After receiving word that the City’s proposed budget includes funds to restore one of the two positions that were cut during the pandemic, Soloff highlighted how Commissioners had already passed a motion asking for the parking structure to be a top priority for whoever is selected for the position.

A resident who phoned in to the meeting commented on the need for parking in the area, but Commissioner Todd Flora described the criticism as a thinly veiled attack on Parking Structure 3.

“The people that are pushing this petition to stave off affordable housing for formerly homeless people in Parking Structure 3 are the same cranks that are trying to recall the school board and they’re never happy with anything,” Flora said. “And I got to tell you it’s so frustrating because their petition literally says language like, ‘We support low-income housing and housing for the homeless — just not in downtown,’ meaning they don’t want Black, Brown and mentally-challenged people Downtown. Let’s just come out and say it.”

Flora added it’s incredibly frustrating to listen to people fight a project that he thinks will be demonstrably helpful to a number of residents in the city because people want to hang on to a parking structure.

“Remember, we used to have to whole-heartedly hang on to parking structure because we were going to put a theater in there,” Flora said. “Well, the theater became The ArcLight at the end of Santa Monica Place and that’s not even going to stay open.”

Soloff reminded commissioners that people are entitled to have a certain view before Commissioners Leonora Camner and Rene Jean Buchanan took time to share their thoughts.

“This is an issue where I feel like Santa Monica is providing a model to be proud of,” Camner said. “I think that it’s just really exciting and it’s something that I talk about a lot.”

Buchanon agreed.

“My initial excitement when (City Council) decided to use this location for affordable, primarily formerly homeless housing, which was then quashed during the pandemic, is back,” Buchanan said. “But I think the thing that is most exciting to me…. is there has been so much talk about doing something about the homeless situation, about housing people who were homeless; and we’ve been talking for years, and the problem has only gotten worse. To me, I think it is a huge step that the city, in this case, is going to put its money where its mouth is and actually build the housing for the one group in this community that we have not built housing for — people who are living on the streets.”

Brennon@smdp.com