SMCLC Urges Council to Retain Public Review

Below is a letter that SMCLC has sent to the City Council, the Planning Commission and the Architectural Review Board urging the Council NOT to adopt an ordinance next Tuesday permanently exempting affordable housing projects of 50 units or less in multi-family and commercial districts from public review.

Our letter explains why we believe public review is important and why residents should not be disenfranchised.

If you agree that public review is important, we urge you to write your own emails to the council at their listed emails below (or go on our website at and use our post-office feature which allows you do instantly do this).

For those who have the time, this matter will be heard on January 9th at Council Chambers sometime after 7:00 p.m. (Item 7-B).

January 5, 2006

Dear City Council,

Over the past two decades, Santa Monica residents have been staunch supporters of preserving and creating affordable housing in our city. At the same time, under your leadership, our city has aggressively implemented, and even exceeded, the affordable housing goals expressed in Proposition "R", adopted by Santa Monica voters in 1990. According to a recent city report, 769 affordable housing units, representing 37% of the total 2,089 units have been constructed from 1994 to 2005.

The City Council now has before it a proposal to adopt an ordinance which will permanently exempt 100% affordable housing projects of 50 units or less from public review by eliminating development review or conditional use permits in multi-family districts and enumerated commercial districts respectively.

SMCLC believes eliminating public review would be a mistake. As supporters of affordable housing, SMCLC is concerned that the lack of reviewed public input will erode support for it.

Public review of any large development which impacts a neighborhood is a vital part of the planning process. Public review is important so that Santa Monica residents will (1) have confidence in the planning process; (2) understand what goals are being met; (3) have full disclosure of the possible tradeoffs of such a project, e.g., size, scale, use (including neighborhood serving businesses), location, traffic, parking; and (4) have a meaningful opportunity to have their concerns heard and addressed.

Because we support affordable housing, we are concerned that if local residents are not allowed meaningful input into these developments, our city runs the risk that residents will come to view these projects as one more way in which developers are unfairly favored over residents.

Additionally, the lack of public review can lead to a process that results in poorly conceived projects. The staff report to the planning commission recognized that residents "overwhelmingly" do not support being disenfranchised from zoning planning review by this ordinance on such a key community issue, and disenfranchising residents is clearly at odds with residents' goals of greater community involvement in future land-use decisions, as expressed in our ongoing LUCE update process.

Two arguments have been advanced against public review. The first is that it could slow down the planning process which, in turn, could jeopardize a project's funding. But the intricate funding for these projects is already in place by the time the approval process commences and the process is already expedited to enable them to be built quickly, so there is no credible reason why public review cannot be part of an expedited schedule.

The second argument is that a discretionary review process might make a project more vulnerable to lawsuits, thereby killing the project. However, in the history of Santa Monica, to our knowledge, only one lawsuit has even been filed to stop an affordable housing project. The concern about this extremely rare occurrence should not be used to trump the public's right of review.

To enact an ordinance that permanently eliminates public input and development review is not in the public interest. Further, by the time the project is before the Architectural Review Board solely for design review, public input is irrelevant as to many of the very issues that residents want to have considered, frustrating the board and the public alike.

For these reasons, SMCLC urges the Council not to adopt this ordinance and to ensure that the public has the right to be heard on affordable housing projects of 50 units or less in multi-family and commercial districts.

SMCLC Board and Advisers


This letter appeared in the January 8, 2007 issue of the Santa Monica Daily Press. View as pdf.