Santa Monica might want to transfer state mandated housing requirements to Palmdale in exchange for cash payments but details of any potential deal are far from complete.

Every eight years, the State assigns a quota of housing units that regional governments should plan for. Individual cities are not required to build any units themselves, but they must create zoning rules that would allow private developers to build up to the assigned number of units if they choose to.

In the current cycle, Santa Monica has been assigned 8,874 new housing units, 69% of which must be at various affordable income levels. The new figures dwarf the previous allocation of 1,674 units and the process for accommodating the quota is alarming residents and officials who fear the huge figure will substantially change the character fo the city.

Palmdale City Manager Ronda Perez said last week that Santa Monica had approached Palmdale with an idea to move some Santa Monica’s state mandated housing allocation out of the city and to another community.

“There is an opportunity here, I guess the best way to say it is they are land poor, and we are land rich and there is an opportunity here to just have a discussion but before we get too far down the path, I wanted to make sure to bring this before council for your consideration to consider a potential transfer of some housing units from the City of Santa Monica to the city of Palmdale for development.”

She said the idea would be for Santa Monica to contribute a yet to be determined sum of money that would support infrastructure or investment to facilitate the potential housing and while the conversation was very much in its infancy, Perez wanted direction from her council before going any further.

Palmdale Mayor Laura Bettencourt was adamanently against the proposal. She criticized the nature of the conversation as a “back-room deal” and asked why she as Mayor had been left out of the discussion.

“So I am wholeheartedly 100% against this, and I would probably fight this with every breath in my body,” she said.

While any discussions were in the extremely early stages, officials said the idea was attractive to other cities.

Mayor Pro Tem Andrea Alarcon said she had been told if Palmdale didn’t take the opportunity, Lancaster would.

“Quite frankly I was advised prior to this meeting that if the city of Palmdale doesn’t jump on this opportunity to benefit from Santa Monica’s budgetary budgetary surplus, Lancaster will,” she said. “So I think at this stage it’s it’s just allowing our city manager to have the conversation to see what’s on the table. If it’s a terrible proposal, you know, obviously she will not have authority to enter into a contract.”

A response from Santa Monica said any potential discussions would also need authorization from Santa Monica council and no such discussion had occurred yet.

“At the request of the Palmdale City Manager, officials from Palmdale and the City of Santa Monica held an introductory meeting last December to discuss the two cities’ respective housing production obligations and resource needs,” said a statement issued by Santa Monica. “City of Santa Monica staff have had no further discussions with Palmdale officials since, and any further engagement would not be authorized without direction from the Santa Monica City Council. The Santa Monica City Council has not discussed or provided any direction on this item.”

Santa Monica’s statement did not clarify what, if any, ideas were discussed in December and officials said recently that several unplanned expenses, including legal settlements and required seismic safety measures to civic property, jeporidzed the City’s ability to fully rebound from the pandemic.

Palmdale staff told their council that if any deal were to emerge, it would require special legislation on the part of state lawmakers. Despite Mayor Bettencourt’s opposition, the rest of the council were open to the proposal and authorized Perez to begin discussions.

“I do understand that Palmdale has a lot of space, and we are in desperate need of development, but we don’t necessarily have the money to do that,” said Councilman Eric Ohlsen. “And there’s Santa Monica that has no space to develop and a lot of money that they can’t do anything with. So I would be curious to see what the potential is if they’re going to give us hundreds of millions of dollars to improve our infrastructure, the workforce housing with a pathway to homeownership. That’s something I would be interested in hearing.”

Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...