Santa Monica City Council Approves Downtown Community Plan with Ambitious Affordable Housing Incentives and Requirements

July 26, 2017

Santa Monica City Council Approves Downtown Community Plan with Ambitious Affordable Housing Incentives and Requirements

SANTA MONICA, Calif. – The Santa Monica City Council unanimously approved the Downtown Community Plan (DCP) at last night’s City Council meeting on July 25, 2017. The DCP is the central planning tool that will guide the future of Downtown Santa Monica over the next 15 years.

“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,” said Mayor Ted Winterer. “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.”

The vote of approval comes after a six year-long planning process that involved thousands of community members at workshops, online and on social media, at walking tours, and in public hearings. It involved meeting with dozens of organizations and nearly every board and commission in Santa Monica, including six public hearings before the Planning Commission and three before City Council.

“A great deal of gratitude is owed to individuals and organizations across this community who have been deeply involved in the DCP for years now,” said Planning and Community Development Director David Martin. “It was important to work through each element of the plan and while this phase of work has concluded, there is a lot of work ahead to implement this blue print for Downtown. We hope people will continue to stay engaged.”

The DCP maintains Downtown Santa Monica’s many roles as a thriving neighborhood, public gathering space, international visitor destination, and a regional business district. The reason for a planning tool like the DCP is that it sets out priorities established by the community through substantial public outreach. These priorities are reflected in the seven key elements that anchor the Plan:

  1. Housing is strongly encouraged to accommodate residents of all incomes, family situations, and stages of life;
  2. New and enhanced public spaces will add to Downtown’s attractiveness;
  3. Expanded cultural, entertainment, and artistic offerings will  add to Downtown’s identity as the city’s cultural heart;
  4. Preservation of historic and character-defining buildings will help maintain Downtown’s identity as new infill projects take shape;
  5. Downtown’s economic engine will be supported to maintain services and resident’s high quality of life;
  6. Improvements to the mobility network will make getting around town efficient and safe; and
  7. A diverse range of new uses, activities, and preferred services will support the emerging Downtown neighborhood and promote social connectedness and community wellbeing. 

The DCP incentivizes housing production through a streamlined administrative approval process for projects that meet set size, height, and design standards. It also includes the most ambitious affordable housing requirements and incentives in California with 20-30% of all new units designated as affordable for low-income residents and families. After a lengthy discussion, Council voted to approve this requirement in a 4-3 vote. Pending projects with applications filed prior to November 16, 2016 will be subject to a 20% affordable housing requirement. There are 906 units included in this group.

"Given the diversity of views in the community, the unanimous vote by the City Council reflects both consensus-building and compromise. The DCP adopted by the Council strives for a balance that offers a potential model for other cities for tackling the growing crisis of housing affordability in Southern California,” said City Manager Rick Cole. “The Council is committed to pursuing Santa Monica's values of inclusion, equity and environmental sustainability to maintain and enhance our historic Downtown."

With the passage of the DCP, Santa Monica joins a handful of progressive cities around the country in abolishing parking minimums in Downtown. Eliminating parking minimums lets the market dictate whether a builder incorporates on-site parking and at what level. 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% of Santa Monica. The three largest populations by age are 30% 25 – 34; 18.2% 35 – 44, and 16.6% 65+. Nearly 34% 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.

The DCP and the LUCE

The Downtown Community Plan is guided by the 2010 Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) vision of a thriving, mixed-use urban environment that provides multiple opportunities for living, working, entertainment, and enrichment. The LUCE envisioned an energetic and contemporary Downtown for residents, employees, and visitors that integrates the Expo Line and preserves the unique character of the district and its commercial and residential life. The LUCE also called for enhancing Downtown through better linkages to some of City's most visible attractions: the Civic Center and the beachfront. However, the LUCE deferred implementation of the vision and the specific standards to creation of a Specific Plan for Downtown.

For more information, visit downtownsmplan.org.

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