As of this week, the City of Santa Monica has four months remaining in which to provide an updated — acceptable — housing element to meet the requirements of the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). 

In its original Housing Element, which was submitted to the State for approval in October 2021, Santa Monica outlined a plan it believed would meet a Regional Housing Needs Allocation, or RHNA, of 8,895 new units, of which 6,168 would be affordable.

While Santa Monica does not need to actually construct 9,000 new housing units by 2029, the City does need to provide a plan that would allow that state-mandated housing need to be met. Earlier this year, HCD rejected the City’s proposed 2021-29 Housing Element. In April, the City requested an extension on the deadline, but Planning Manager Jing Yeo said this week that no such extension has yet been granted, although the city “continues to advocate for such relief.”

On Wednesday, June 15, the Santa Monica Planning Commission will meet to discuss staff suggestions that the City hopes will bring its housing element into compliance — and as part of that meeting, proposed capacity is going way, way up. Earlier this month, the Planning Commission agreed on an increase in FAR (Floor Area Ratio) in certain areas that would substantially increase the number of new housing units that could be built, by increasing density allowance.

“Based on these higher FARs, the overall SSI capacity would be 13,549 units, which provides a 52% buffer over the RHNA,” according to a staff report prepared for this week’s Planning Commission meeting. “… Staff has incorporated the Planning Commission’s recommended FAR into the draft redline revisions.”

According to the staff report, Planning Commissioners requested FAR increases as follows:

-The MUBL, or Mixed-Use Boulevard Low District, north of the Santa Monica (I-10) Freeway, should have an FAR of 3.25

-The MUB, or Mixed-Use Boulevard / GC (General Commercial) district on Santa Monica Boulevard should have an FAR of 3.25

-The MUC, or Mixed-Use Creative District in the Bergamot Area Plan, except west of Berkeley and south of Nebraska, should have an FAR of 4.0 with a corresponding height of 84 feet.

At a city council meeting in April, Yeo said that HCD’s complaints fell into three general categories. 

For one, 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, Yeo said at the time. 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. Finally, 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.

Staff wrote in a report prior to this week’s Planning Commission meeting that they were optimistic HCD would approve of the updated Housing Element, outlining responses to 21 concerns presented by the State.

“All of the draft redline revisions … have been viewed by HCD staff who have preliminarily provided generally favorable feedback on City staff’s approach to addressing the comment, subject to full review and public comment once draft redline revisions are submitted to HCD,” staff wrote. “Staff will be presenting redline revisions to the City Council on June 21, 2022 and will seek direction to transmit the revisions to HCD, with a goal of receiving HCD’s approval of the draft revisions before formal adoption of a revised Housing Element. Staff anticipates formal adoption in the Fall, when additional environmental analysis is complete.”

In April, Yeo told City Council Santa Monica was losing out on State funds because it was out of compliance on the Housing Element. 

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. 

Planning Commission meets on June 15 at 5:30 p.m. The public can only attend this meeting via live stream at: Cable Channel 16, https://www.youtube.com/user/Citytv16santamonica or https://www.smgov.net/video or https://primetime.bluejeans.com/a2m/live-event/qpfkurwh.

The Dial-In Number is 1 (415) 466-7000 (US), PIN: 3256634.

Clara Harter contributed to this report.

emily@smdp.com