The clock is ticking for Santa Monica to complete a plan to build almost 9,000 new units by 2029 and avoid further penalties and funding cuts from the state.

Following the Department of Housing and Community Development’s (HCD) rejection of Santa Monica’s initial Housing Element plan on Feb. 8, the City has until Oct.15 to bring its plan into compliance. Council members say that’s not enough time and during an April 26 meeting voted to request an extension from the state. 

Santa Monica is not the only City struggling to come up with an approved plan to meet HCD’s ambitious housing targets. Beverly Hills, Culver City, Redondo Beach and the City of LA all had their initial Housing Elements rejected. Pasadena and West Hollywood both tried to appeal their Regional Housing Needs Allocations (RHNA). 

Santa Monica’s RHNA calls for 8,895 new units of which 6,168 must be affordable. The City’s initial Housing Element, which outlined proposed programs and zoning changes to meet this target, was deemed insufficient by the state for several reasons and HCD requested a series of revisions.

During the April 26 meeting, Planning Manager Jing Yeo said that HCD’s complaints fall into three general buckets. 

Firstly, HCD would like to see the City make concrete commitments and timelines for constructing housing on the City owned sites identified in its Housing Element. Secondly, HCD is requesting more research into the goal of affirmatively furthering fair housing, which means working towards an equitable distribution of affordable housing and diverse tenants across the city. Lastly, HCD wants to see plans to address the shortfall of sites to accommodate lower income units and the removal of constraints to building these units.

There are several consequences for being out of compliance, which will worsen the longer it takes for the city to get its Housing Element approved. 

Santa Monica currently has lost a degree of local control over development and must approve any project with at least 20 percent affordable to 60 percent area median income or 100 percent moderate income housing, even if the project exceeds zoning or general plan maximums. The City is also currently ineligible for funding from the Local Housing Trust Fund and Permanent Local Housing Allocation. 

“Another key consequence is that the City has lost access to funding by being out of compliance on the Housing Element,” said Yeo, later adding “This has very, very real impacts on the City’s ability to produce affordable housing.”

The City is also facing a lawsuit from a local developer and a local real estate broker over its failure to pass a complaint Housing Element. 

City Councilmembers expressed frustration during the meeting when discussing the path ahead.

“We’re faced with insurmountable charges that are going to destroy the character of our city and I’m not sure that there’s any relief in sight from the state at all and that’s tragic,” said Councilmember Phil Brock.

Councilmember Christine Parra said she was worried that the Pico neighborhood will bear the brunt of densification under the plan as the land there is cheaper for developers to construct housing on. 

“We have to meet our numbers for RHNA, and I know that the state, you know, doesn’t really care how we do it. We just have to do it. I mean, that’s what it feels like,” said Parra. 

Planning Manager Jing Yeo maintained that the best thing the City could do in this situation is seek a six month extension for completing its rezoning and Housing Element plan. 

“I can’t read the mind of legislators…what we can do given the situation is really ask for time, just to be able to proceed in a sensible way through this,” said Yeo. “I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest to attempt to rezone twice in the next year, this allows us the time to complete the work, get the policy done and get it certified and then proceed into zoning.”