No plans, deals or even discussions are afoot to transfer housing requirements from Santa Monica to Palmdale following Council’s first public discussion of the topic last week.
The notion of potentially transferring state mandated housing requirements to Palmdale in exchange for cash payments was raised in a Palmdale City Council meeting when Palmdale City Manager Manager Ronda Perez claimed Santa Monica had approached Palmdale with an idea to move some of Santa Monica’s state mandated housing allocation out of the city and to another community.
Palmdale’s council was receptive to the idea but it was unclear at that time, how any deal would work or even if Santa Monica were interested in pursuing the matter.
At the Feb. 28 Santa Monica council meeting, Councilmember Caroline Torosis asked, “Would it be legal under California state law for one city to transfer its state mandated housing production obligations to another jurisdiction in exchange for any consideration, financial or otherwise?”
To which Doug Sloan, the Santa Monica City Attorney, replied, “No, it would not.”
Torosis followed up.
“Did Santa Monica staff initiate any discussions with the city of Palmdale staff or elected officials about this concept?” Torosis asked, adding, “How did this issue regarding the city of Palmdale come to our attention and why was it reported on?”
City manager, David White, replied, “No,” adding, “I can’t explain why it was reported on, but it came to us through a request of their interim city manager to meet with city officials to talk about their housing needs and our housing needs. It was through their request to us that we had a meeting with them.”
The vague deal suggested at the Palmdale meeting would have been for Santa Monica to contribute a yet-to-be-determined sum of money that would support infrastructure or investment to facilitate the potential housing.
Palmdale Mayor Laura Bettencourt was adamantly 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.
White confirmed that Santa Monica City officials had in fact had a meeting with representatives from Palmdale, at their request, but categorically stated that no commitment had been made.
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 (referred to as the sixth 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 of the city.
The assignments are to specific cities and are not transferable.
“We will not be able to transfer those housing obligations, not at least without a change in state law,” White said.
City staffs have the ability to discuss and negotiate with their counterparts without direct Council direction but they cannot enter into any agreements without explicit approval of elected representatives.
Mayor Gleam Davis said, “Mr. White can speak to whomever he wants to speak with, but the council has to direct him if Santa Monica wanted to engage in further discussions with Palmdale about this, putting aside the legality for a moment. We would have to direct the city manager to have those negotiations.”
White said he did not want to entertain any discussions without Council instructions to do so as the Housing Element was an adopted document with legislative and legal framework attached, none of which included talks with other cities.
“I would not be comfortable getting into advanced conversations on this topic without Council direction,” he said.
However, Councilman Oscar de la Torre said other elected officials might have an interest in the topic of inter-city cooperation, including State Senator Ben Allen.
“So we can have those discussions because from my understanding, any of this will be contingent upon the legislature passing a law that allows cities to even engage in that type of partnership,” de la Torre said.
This intriguing line of last-minute questioning came after Council voted unanimously to seek additional clarification with the City’s 6th cycle housing implementation, increasing response time from 30 days to 60 days for projects with under 150 units and from 60 days to 90 for larger, more complex projects. Councilmember Jesse Zwick forwarded the motion and it was seconded by Davis.