Housing: The new system would allow housing on the ground floor of developments in retail zones where current rules require mixed use. Daniel Farr

After 15 months of planning, dozens of community meetings and a six hour long council discussion, Councilmembers voted 5 to 2 to approve the City’s 6th Cycle Housing Element Plan.

This 180 page document outlines the City’s plan for creating 8,895 new housing units, of which 6,168 must be affordable, by 2029. These numbers are mandated by the State’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) and the plan must be certified by the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).

Councilmembers agreed that planning for almost 9,000 units over an 8 year period is no small feat.

“I think everyone agrees that those RHNA numbers are not going to be easily met,” said Councilmember Gleam Davis.

The current RHNA allocations, which call for the construction of 1.34 million units statewide, are themselves the subject of controversy. The Orange County Council of Governments is suing HCD alleging that they utilized flawed metrics and grossly over calculated the state’s housing needs.

While City Council previously voted to have the Westside Cities Council of Governments, of which Santa Monica is a member, discuss joining the lawsuit, all councilmembers voiced a commitment to meeting the City’s RHNA allocations through the Housing Element plan.

“I don’t believe we lack will to create more housing in the city,” said Mayor Sue Himmelrich. “I think that our commitment to housing and to affordable housing is 100% clear.”

Councilmember Davis voted against the Housing Element as drafted as she felt the plan contained too many restrictions and caveats that would ultimately hinder the City’s ability to meet the ambitious numbers. The goal of many of these restrictions is to maintain the character of residential neighborhoods and protect communities from overdevelopment.

“I think every time we do this death by 1,000 cuts of ‘we’ll reserve our rights here and we won’t do this here,’ I think reflects on our willingness to really embrace the commitments that you say we’re making,” said Davis in response to Himmelrich’s statement. “If we really want to show HCD that we are serious about building this housing… then we should be making decisions at every turn to encourage the building of more housing.”

Councilmember Kristin McCowan also voted against the plan, which she said did not include a clear enough vision of how homes will be made affordable and available for families. The other five councilmembers voted in favor of the plan as drafted.

Councilmembers were facing an Oct. 15 deadline to get an approved draft to the Department of Housing and Community Development. HCD will undergo a 90 day review process and either certify the plan as submitted or request more modifications.

The Housing Element Plan has four key goals: increase housing production, maintain housing stability, locate housing strategically and ensure equitable housing access. The plan contains a myriad of programs, strategies and land use and zoning changes to facilitate the development of thousands of new units.

These include incentivizing housing development on parking lots, rezoning commercial boulevards to allow for 100 percent residential use of buildings and committing City-owned sites for 100 percent affordable housing.

Other program highlights include amending the City’s Land Use and Circulation Element and zoning plans to allow multi-unit housing in non-residential zones where housing is currently prohibited.

The City also added a requirement that 100 percent of housing be affordable—meaning restricted to individuals making 120 percent or less of the area median income—in areas around key public transportation stations. This includes spaces in the Downtown area, Bergamot area and by the 17th Street E-Line station.

There was significant discussion of the fact that the RHNA allocations are an unfunded mandate, and while the State is requiring Santa Monica and other cities to build these units, the State is not necessarily equipping them with the resources to do so.

“What we’re really saying is ‘we’re going to need help, we’re ready to do this, we’re willing to do this’,” said Councilmember Phil Brock. “I also want the Governor and HCD over time to realize that they’re going to have to help, not only Santa Monica, but every other City in the state.”

Councilmembers voted to include a cover letter to HCD as part of their Housing Element submission that emphasizes the City’s robust commitment to meeting its RHNA allocation and requests financial support to help meet this goal.