Two big decisions expected next week will help shape the future of Parking Structure 3 (PS3), a 50-year-old garage at the corner of 4th and Santa Monica that the city hopes to develop into affordable housing.
When Santa Monica City Council meets on Tuesday, Jan. 11, the hot-button topic will highlight its agenda; the same week, a judge’s ruling in a lawsuit to block demolition of the existing structure may throw the whole plan into limbo.
It was back in April 2019 that City Council first approved a plan to redevelop the parking garage at 1318 Fourth Street, which contains 337 spaces, into affordable housing.
At the time, Council determined the City of Santa Monica would solicit proposals from developers to build 100 to 150 apartments on the site and will prioritize proposals for permanent supportive housing — affordable housing that includes services that keep chronically homeless individuals housed — to be included in the scope of the project.
The plan began to move along. In August 2019, a request for proposals was sent out asking interested developers to draw up plans for how they would transform PS3 into a permanent housing complex; by that November, seven development teams submitted proposals. Then, the pandemic struck.
“The project was delayed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, restructuring of City resources, and prioritization of programs and projects that provided immediate response to those in need during the health crisis,” according to a staff report for the upcoming council meeting.
In that time, a wave of local opposition also rose.
By the time the California Coastal Commission granted permission for the structure to be demolished to make way for the new housing in May 2021, there was already a vocal cohort of local residents, developers and business owners rallying to prevent the removal of PS3.
At the time of the Coastal Commission hearing, a petition drive to save the parking garage had garnered about 1,800 signatures; by now, that number has ballooned to more than 5,000, according to organizers. The petition was started by John Alle, a local resident, landlord and founding member of the Santa Monica Bayside Owners Association (SMBOA).
Opponents of the new development argued PS3, located at the intersection of 4th Street and Santa Monica Boulevard, was a pivotal piece of visitor-serving infrastructure, providing access to area businesses and the farmers market. Proponents said the aging structure required millions of dollars worth of repairs and parking spaces were already accounted for in the 2013 rebuild of Parking Structure 6, which includes 400 additional spaces.
In June, SMBOA filed a lawsuit in an attempt to keep the structure from being demolished.
The case — a petition for preliminary injunction — most recently went before a judge on Friday, Jan. 7. LA County Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff took the matter under submission, essentially delaying a ruling on whether or not the structure may be taken down.
While attorneys for SMBOA said the judge’s ruling was expected during the week of Jan. 10-15, the city continued to move forward with plans for the mixed-use development.
Over the past several months, an evaluation committee made up of city staff members from several departments, plus an independent affordable housing expert, reviewed proposals from seven teams interested in developing housing at the site of PS3, eventually recommending a company called EAH Housing, Inc. as their top bid.
The City’s six-member Housing Commission was split in its decision of which team to recommend; with two commissioners recusing themselves, the remaining four could not decide between EAH and another team, Community Corporation of Santa Monica + Metropolitan Pacific.
“There was a motion presented to support the EAH development team proposal, followed by a motion to support the Community Corporation of Santa Monica and Metropolitan Pacific development team proposal,” the city council staff report stated. “Both motions did not have enough votes to pass.”
The Community Corporation of Santa Monica + Metropolitan Pacific proposal did not appear in the staff report.
Founded in 1968, EAH owns and/or manages housing for 22,000 residents in 110 properties across 55 municipalities in California and Hawaii, including in Santa Monica. The company was also rapidly expanding; “at the time of proposal submission, EAH had 50 apartment communities under construction in Southern California with an additional five developments in the pipeline,” the staff report detailed.
In its proposal, EAH named local homeless outreach organization The People Concern (TPC) as its social service partner. Together, EAH and TPC proposed to provide services to all residents, which include “physical and mental health services, education programming, civic engagement, and healthy eating,” according to information from the city. “TPC’s services for households with special needs would include personal case management, benefits counseling, mental health counseling, health care, substance use services, money management and legal assistance provided directly and through partner agencies.”
Though staff recommended EAH Housing, Inc., as the team to lead the development, there remained a choice between two different EAH proposals; one would include 120 apartments with 50 supportive housing apartments, while the other would include 150 apartments with 50 supportive housing apartments. No more detailed or specific plans were available at this point in the process.
“Should the Council select EAH’s development team, EAH would solicit feedback from the community regarding the preferred development mix that best meets the City’s objectives while minimizing the necessity of additional City funding,” a staff report from the meeting stated, referencing a four-phase community outreach plan.
EAH also named its other development team members including Santa Monica-based architect Van Tilburg, Banvard & Soderbergh and construction manager AMJ Construction Management.
If Council votes to approve EAH as the development team, it will represent the first planning step toward the new development: authorizing the City Manager to execute an exclusive negotiating agreement with EAH for a mixed-use, affordable housing development.