The City Council in late July approved the Downtown Community Plan, and with it one of the most ambitious affordable housing requirements in the country.
The plan, which will dictate how land is used in downtown for the next 20 years or more, requires those who wish to build apartments or condos in the district to make sure that anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of units be deemed affordable for low-income earners.
It’s the highest percentage in the state, according to multiple reports.
The affordable housing requirements start with 20 percent on site for buildings up to 50 feet in height, or 25 percent if the developer opts to build affordable housing off site. The mandate increases until it reaches 30 percent on site for buildings of 70 feet to 84 feet in height, or 35 percent off site.
The plan, which allows for more than 3 million square feet of new development in downtown, originally called for 15 to 20 percent affordable units in new projects, but the Council in early July seemed open to exploring the idea of raising the requirements given that one of the DCP’s stated goals was to increase the availability of housing for all who wish to live in downtown, including those making minimum wage.
While a study conducted by City Hall’s consultants found that the higher affordable housing requirements would still allow developers to profit, many projects would produce only marginal returns, leading some to question whether any housing would be built at all. Developers may opt instead to erect shorter, less dense commercial projects, creating more office space and retail, instead of the housing that elected officials desire.
The council was divided, with the vote for approval being split 4 to 3 in favor of the affordable housing requirements. Voting to increase the amount of affordable housing were Mayor Ted Winterer and Councilmembers Sue Himmelrich, Kevin McKeown and Tony Vazquez.
Voting in opposition were Gleam Davis, Terry O’Day and Pam O’Connor.
The 30 percent ceiling tells developers, “Do not come here,” land use attorney Dave Rand of Armbruster, Goldsmith and Delvac told CurbedLA.com. “Do not build here. Thirty percent of nothing is nothing.”
Pending projects with applications filed prior to Nov. 16, 2016 will be subject to a 20 percent affordable housing requirement. There are 906 units included in this group.
Supporters, including city manager Rick Cole and Winterer, said that though the new mandate is high, it would remain attractive to developers because of other newly adopted measures—the elimination of parking requirements, a sped-up approvals process, and added housing incentives—which would help keep costs down.
“Let’s give everybody a chance to see how it works,” Winterer said.
“A long and thoughtful process with the most intensive public engagement program we’ve ever led got us to this place. The downtown community is anchored by our shared priorities of historic preservation, public open space, transportation choice, pedestrian-inviting design, and environmental leadership,” Winterer said. “The Plan exemplifies Santa Monica’s commitment to tackling major regional issues of housing availability and affordability and the paradigm shift from car-centric to multi-modal living.”
In addition to the affordable housing demands, the elimination of minimum parking requirements also drew considerable comments from both supporters and opponents of the plan. Critics say there isn’t enough parking in downtown already and eliminating the requirement to include a set number in new housing or commercial developments will further exacerbate the problem. Supporters say some future tenants will not have cars and therefore will be able to pay a lower rent as they will not have to cover the cost of parking.
“Eliminating parking minimums lets the market dictate whether a builder incorporates on-site parking and at what level,” City Hall officials said in a press release. “Over time, this is meant to encourage shared parking and use of alternative modes of transportation rather than contributing to congestion by subsidizing parking by requiring minimum levels of additional parking construction for every new building.”
Here are other notable highlights of the Downtown Community Plan. It:
• Seeks to attract new cultural institutions like a museum to add to the cultural and entertainment offerings as well as other ways to bring people together through festivals and events.
• Prioritizes new public open space, including plazas, parklets, courtyards, and a dog park.
• Encourages new public art such as murals, sculpture, and other creative concepts in both permanent and temporary formats.
• Creates new protections and incentives for historic resources, focusing on Downtown’s Historic Core covering 2nd and 4th Streets and the Third Street Promenade.
• Encourages smaller, local serving businesses.
• Focuses on the pedestrian realm by calling for inviting streetscapes and sidewalks.
• Includes clear limits for three Established Large Sites, which will still have to go through a rigorous public process. These sites can have a height up to 130 feet and site specific Floor Area Ratios (FAR).
• Anticipates a future “Gateway Master Plan” to evaluate decking over the 10 Freeway to add additional Downtown green space, eliminate freeway-exiting traffic bottlenecks and encourage parking away from the core of Downtown.
The next steps are to begin work on implementing the DCP. The adopted Plan includes a series of actions that will roll out over the next few years. These include improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists as well as to streets and open space. To monitor the production of housing in the downtown, a report on housing production will be provided to the City Council every six months.
Downtown by the numbers
Downtown Santa Monica is home to approximately 4,500 residents, 20,000 employees, and 7 million tourists annually. The downtown area is about 229 acres or 40 blocks and makes up 4 percent of Santa Monica. The three largest populations by age are 30 percent 25 – 34; 18.2 percent 35 – 44, and 16.6 percent 65+. Nearly 34 percent of all sales tax generated in Santa Monica comes from the downtown. In a survey collecting community input on the DCP, residents reported visiting Downtown an average of at least one time per week. Twenty-one percent of downtown has the potential to change over the next 15 years. A visualization of what is anticipated to change can be seen through the See Downtown 2030 visualization.
— This report was based largely on the City of Santa Monica’s press release as well as articles published by SurfSantaMonica.com.