Ongoing discussions about the Housing Element will continue on Dec. 7.
While City officials continue to search for ways to halt the construction of 16 new large residential developments that have secured vested rights to be built around Santa Monica due to the City’s failure to comply with state housing plan guidelines, the implementation process has begun for programs included in the now approved 6th Cycle Housing element.
Every ten years, all cities in California are mandated to produce an acceptable Housing Element, a plan which outlines development guidelines to allow for an increase in residential housing units to hit state-mandated minimums and other state standards.
From February to October of this year, Santa Monica’s proposed Housing Element was out of compliance, resulting in the state suspending the City’s ability to reject applications for housing developments as long as they included at least 20% affordable units or 100% moderate units under a policy referred to as “builder’s remedy.” This resulted in the greenlighting of projects that otherwise would not have been permitted, resulting in the approval of a total of 4,562 new units in the form of medium and large scale residential projects with most between nine and 15 stories tall.
The state approved a revised version of Santa Monica’s Housing Element on Oct. 14, which, despite all the controversy, is making its way through the implementation process.
The Planning Commission discussed the first phase of Housing Element programs the City is required to implement at its Nov. 30 meeting. This includes streamlined approval and design review for certain housing projects, incentivizing housing projects on surface parking lots in residential zones and establishing a Moderate Income Housing Overlay (MHO) to create more housing, specifically around Expo stations.
Commissioners discussed these proposals and the possibility of reducing the minimum size of MHO units from 375 square feet to 250 square feet.
“250 is a very, very small unit,” Commissioner Mario Fonda-Bonardi said. “It’s basically a college dorm and I’m worried that if you go down that road, first of all, you’ll get exceptional turnover – people are not going to stay in those units for very long- and second, it’s packing a lot of people in a small area and I’m not sure that’s really desirable.”
Planning Manager Jing Yeo said that the reduced size is meant to maximize housing availability with budget constraints in mind.
“These will tend to be smaller units– studios and the like– but with the lack of any financial support for projects like this, they’re targeting both younger and older populations who are interested in these kinds of units,” Yeo explained.
Commissioners also discussed expanding the targeted MHO zone from within a half mile of transit stations to other non-residential areas as well, and gave staff direction to look into other possibilities.
The commission will meet again on Dec. 7.