At the urging of City Councilman Kevin McKeown, the council took an unusual step Tuesday night to rescind its earlier approval of a development agreement for a major mixed-use project at Village Trailer Park.
The 4-3 vote does not kill the project. It does, however, reopen negotiations with the developer. Councilmembers want to secure more "affordable" housing at the project, called the East Village, which will replace 99 trailers at one of the last two remaining mobile home parks in Santa Monica.
In the now-voided development agreement, only 16 apartments of the planned 377 apartments and condos will be be deed-restricted for tenants with "very low" and "low" incomes.
"If we don’t have affordable housing built in this area… the people who work there won’t be able to afford to live there and they will become commuters—which is exactly the problem we’re trying to solve," McKeown said.
McKeown was able to secure support from the council's two new members, Ted Winterer and Tony Vazquez, and from Gleam Davis, who had voted against the development agreement in November. (Former councilman Richard Bloom had voted for the agreement and former councilman Bobby Shriver abstained.)
"We're headed in the wrong direction," Winterer said. The former planning commissioner's opposition to the development agreement centered primarily on it being approved before the release of the city's Bergamot Area Plan.
The plan is supposed to guide the city as developers propose changes to the former industrial areas near the Bergamot Arts Station. Its framework includes managing traffic and parking, urban design, land use, wages and housing. A final draft will be presented to the planning commission for the first time Wednesday night and to the City Council for adoption later this winter.
"Until we really have a handle on what’s going on in this area," Winterer said, "I just think it’s premature."
The draft was released Friday, three days after the council's approval of the East Village agreement.
It shows 45 percent of workers in the Bergamot area—which encompases the East Village—could afford to rent a home in Santa Monica and just 19 percent could afford to buy a condo. One percent could afford to purchase a single family home.
City staffers say to make "living in the plan a genuine choice for 75 percent of the employees," rent levels will need to be between $1,000 and $1,500 per month for a one-bedroom unit.
"Providing a stronger match between Bergamot workers and housing options may also be advantageous for businesses in the Bergamot area to attract and retain skilled workers, helping the creative industry cluster to remain and grow," they wrote in their report to the Planning Commission. Enabling "more of them to choose to live nearer to their jobs, thereby reducing congestion, commute time, and vehicle miles traveled."
The council's reconsideration of the East Village development agreement was supported by the boards of directors of the following groups: Friends of Sunset Park, Northeast Neighbors, Pico Neighborhood Association Board of Directors, Santa Monica Mid City Neighbors, among other local groups, including Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights.
"Affordable housing is so crucial to our city," said SMRR co-chair Patricia Hoffman. "We’re talking about working people here... we need to make sure we have enough work force housing for low income and very low income families."
Sue Himmelrich, a Santa Monica resident and attorney with Western Center on Law and Poverty, has argued the East Village development agreement violates Santa Monica's own Affordable Housing Production Program, a 2006 plan that requires new developments to provide, as a part of their projects, a certain ratio of affordable housing units to regularly priced units. She contends the project needs 70 affordable units, not 16.
But park owner and developer Marc Luzzatto said Himmelrich's calculations don't take into consideration concessions he has made, including the retention of 10 mobile homes and 40 parking spaces for the affordable units on a nearby parcel.
"We have been working on this for 6½ years," he said. "We spent a tremendous amount of money, a lot of blood sweat and tears negotiating the development agreement."
Newly-appointed mayor Pam O'Connor and council members Bob Holbrook and Terry O'Day voted not to rescind the agreement. The councilmen have supported the agreement because it provides substantial relocation benefits for the trailer park residents who will be displaced by the development.
"I’m very concerned the great benefit program… will be lost," Holbrook said. "And that really worries me."