The City Council knows, or at least claims to know, why a host of proposed developments are suddenly densifying but they want staff to explain the situation for the benefit of residents at an upcoming Town Hall style meeting.

Last week, the council asked staff to explain the relationship between the Affordable Housing Production Program (AHPP) and eligibility for a State Density Bonus. They also asked for insight as to whether AHPP requirements are consistent with income requirements under State Density Bonus law and the compounding effects of the AHPP and State Density Bonus on building height and density.

“We’ve had residents over the last couple of weeks question height and density bonuses and how projects could suddenly gain height, because of a couple of potential developments, none of which had been submitted yet to the city,” Councilmember Phil Brock began.

“We know how they gain height, they gain height because of state density bonuses based upon the composition of low income units that are within those developments. And digging a little bit further, we realized that a lot of residents didn’t understand this.”

Brock said he’d held an impromptu Town Hall on a doorstep but realized it was difficult to explain the regulations. He said he’d like the city’s planning staff, city attorney and city manager to hold an event on Sept. 12 to help residents understand what is happening.

“We will let residents know that they should tune in that night,” he said. “We’ll build viewership for the city, TV channel and YouTube and let people have more of an explanation,” Brock said, adding, “I know that some will say, ‘we already voted on this, so it’s done, we don’t need to explain anything else.’ But I really think there’s enough confusion about this, that will [only take up] 10 minutes or 15 minutes of our next council meeting. So that’s what we’re asking.”

Councilmember Oscar de la Torre concurred. “I think it’s very important for residents to engage in these discussions [on] probably the most important planning decisions that are being made in our city and we should have a robust discussion and presentation on those questions,” he said.

Councilmember Caroline Torosis, herself a former member of the Rent Control Board, asked if revisions to housing rules, specifically rules covering the need to build affordable housing on site, would be part of the presentation.

However, City Manager David White said any revisions could prompt a review of the City’s overall Housing Element by state regulators which could undermine local zoning rules. Councils’ first attempt at the Housing element last year was deficient and the city became the poster child for “Builders’ Remedy” projects that are outside local authority.

Santa Monica regained control of its development process and eventually made a deal with developers to replace most of the proposed Builders’ Remedy projects with projects that received density or other bonuses.

Torosis clarified the reason for her tangential line of questioning.

“I want to be very explicitly clear, let’s do the presentation, let’s let people know what is what, but I don’t want to do anything that’s going to significantly detract staff or anything that would appear to HCD like we’re trying to change our housing element in a way that would render us not compliant. Because we all saw what happened last time.”

Councilman Jesse Zwick at first appeared to support the measure.

“I appreciate the opportunity to have state and local housing law and better explained, it’s a thorny area, there’s lots of competing jurisdictional issues and if it’s a matter of explaining where we are and how we got there, to people who are having trouble understanding, then I think that would be a fine thing to do,” Zwick said.

Zwick added that he did not want any insinuation that City Hall would be altering housing rules.

“I ask to just reiterate that any reconsideration of these basic elements of our housing element would 100% cause us to fall out of compliance with state housing law,” Zwick said. “And to those who are implying that what we’re going to do is reconsider this, I would just have to say, ‘please don’t get your hopes up, because that ship sailed over a year ago, and this housing element was passed.’ So we can clear misconceptions and we can explain the way that state density laws interact with our local housing law, as it has done in many instances in the past, including the Gelson’s project, which I’m sure all the councilmembers are aware of.”

Mayor Gleam Davis said it would be a complicated discussion that would require extensive time.

“So I have no problem with asking staff to come back with a written information item explaining how the affordable housing production program, and the state density bonus as well as SB 290 work. But putting this on an agenda, our agendas are pretty packed. You all regularly complain to me about how long the meetings go. So if you want to put this on the agenda, be prepared to bring your bunny slippers and your jammies because there is no way that this is going to be 10 minutes of staff making a presentation,” Davis said.

“I’m not being critical, I’m just saying let’s be realistic about what it is you’re asking for. Because every time this issue has come up, and it has come up multiple times, I’ve looked at the videos of it. It has not been a 10 minute discussion, just on these issues, it’s been 20, 30, in some instances, 60 minutes. I think that all of our previous discussions about this have been relatively clear. I do want to recognize that it is not clear for the community,” Davis said.

She said she would advance an educational item for the community but proposed the eventual presentation could revert to a digital only webinar if it proved too technically difficult to hold a town hall meeting that incorporated digital and physical participation.

“In the event, that for whatever reason, the city cannot technologically do a hybrid town hall that we would then we will then revert to a webinar so that we don’t have to have a-whole-nother Council discussion and we can get the information out to the public as quickly as possible,” she said.

However, that was deemed unfriendly by Brock and was subsequently dismissed. The motion remained to do the hybrid town hall, which includes both in person and via some technological interactive participation from the public. It was moved by Brock and seconded by Parra and passed 5-2, with Davis — and Zwick now — voting no.

Scott fell in love with Santa Monica when he was much younger and now, after living and working in five different countries, he has returned. He's written for the likes of the FT, NBC, the BBC and CNN.