The building at 1640 5th Street is often referred to as the Comma Building because of its shape when viewed from above Credit: Scott Snowden

All seven councilmembers voted to allow negotiations to begin with AMCAL Multi-Housing, Inc. for the development of 570 affordable and market housing units on the assemblage site that’s located adjacent to Expo terminus station in what was without a doubt the single shortest discussion in last week’s City Council meeting.

The AMCAL group of companies describes itself as “an award-winning expert in all phases of real estate development and is particularly focused on student, market-rate and affordable housing with current projects throughout California and Texas.”

“We’ve done a number of very large projects like this [including] a 394 unit project in Antioch, about an hour north of Oakland. We have a 360 unit, two phase farmworker project in the middle of Ventura County and a number of large projects in Texas. It’s a real pleasure to come to Santa Monica,” said Alex Pratt, Vice President of Development for AMCAL.

“In addition to the City-owned parcels, AMCAL proposes to acquire the adjacent privately owned office building at 1640 5th Street often referred to as the Comma Building from the Lincoln property company,” Nia Tang, Senior Development Analyst at City of Santa Monica said, adding,

“Negotiations are currently ongoing between AMCAL and Lincoln property, which the city does not need to be party to at this time.”

The proposed total 2.8 acre site, situated on 5th Street between Colorado Ave and Olympic Blvd is currently home to parking lot 29, which incorporates an EVgo charging station, an empty office building sometimes used by the Santa Monica Police Department for close quarters battle training and the aforementioned Comma Building, currently the home of this newspaper.

It is also directly adjacent to the Expo line Santa Monica terminus to the north and the 10 freeway to the south. It’s also opposite the Big Blue Bus HQ and just round the corner from City Hall and the Ocean Park Community Food Distribution Center.

Following Council’s decision to declare the site as “surplus land”, the City issued a Notice of Availability to affordable housing developers in accordance with the state of California’s Housing and Community Development Surplus Land Act. City staff conducted an analysis of 11 offers received and completed good faith negotiations in accordance with that act. An exclusive negotiating agreement with AMCAL and Gen-Land LLC, a Texas-based company (also known as Lincoln Property Company) was recommended for the new housing units.

The proposal could potentially consist of 570 new housing units, including more than 140 affordable units. However, the final numbers will be determined by the results of a feasibility study, which has not yet been conducted.

“Part of the funding that we’re going to be seeking for this project will be ASIC funding from HCD, which we anticipate could bring as much as $30 million dollars in state resources to improve infrastructure, bicycle lanes, pedestrian access in the area around that Expo station,” said Pratt, adding, “So it’s both an opportunity to provide affordable housing and to leverage resources from both the state and the federal government in order to build a better community here in Santa Monica.”

The motion was made by Councilmember Jesse Zwick and seconded by Councilmember Caroline Torosis. Councilmember Oscar de la Torre asked if Council would be privy to the early architectural renderings and whether they would incorporate retail in addition to residential units.

“How would we be able to influence that process, if we wanted to see something on the ground floor that was different to housing?” He asked.

“Early concept designs envision 100% housing, but that could change,” replied Tang, adding, “There will be a community engagement process and Council is certainly welcome to join that.

“There’s also a planning commission, there’s a lot of public input that will be part of the development design. I think Council will have many opportunities, but right now, we’re focused on the negotiations to map out what the terms are with the schedule performance. So we’re still too early to talk about design,” Tang said.

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.