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Council Could Immediately Streamline Permit Process to Spur Housing Development
 

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By Jorge Casuso

March 5, 2020 -- The City Council could vote Tuesday to eliminate hearings for many large housing projects in an effort to issue permits for some 1,100 units a year, up from 200.

The proposed emergency action comes after the State dramatically hiked Santa Monica's mandated housing target under the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) process to more than 8,800 new housing units over the next eight years.

The Council's vote comes four months after the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) more than doubled Santa Monica's housing target and one month before the agency is scheduled to release the final figure.

Unlike other cities that are waiting or have pushed back, Santa Monica accepted the daunting task and is quickly acting to pave the way for the new units, more than two-thirds of which must be affordable ("Santa Monica Takes Initial Step to Dramatically Boost Housing Production," December 13, 2019).

The proposed Emergency Interim Ordinance and amendments to the City's Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) come "within the context of California’s housing crisis, the pending RHNA allocation, and the urgent need to produce affordable housing," staff wrote.

"The staff-recommended process change for code-compliant housing projects is a necessary first step in the long-term work plan to support housing production," Development Services staff wrote in their report.

The ordinance "would allow a streamlined review process to promptly commence that furthers the City’s housing production objectives and will help the City meet its housing production mandates," staff said.

The proposed changes would allow administrative approval of all 100 percent affordable housing projects and of market-rate projects between 30,000 and 75,000 square feet that comply with the State's Housing Accountability Act (“HAA”).

Approved in 1982, the law designed to promote infill developments by speeding up housing approvals was strengthened in 2016 and 2017 during the current housing crisis.

In addition, Tuesday's proposed actions would add incentives for developers to produce housing in the Bergamot area in the city's old industrial zone and along commercial boulevards.

The proposed emergency ordinance and accompanying amendments would "not change any development standards but create a more streamlined application process, providing certainty for housing providers," staff said.

This is particularly important for 100 percent affordable housing projects financed by such funding methods as tax credits that have tight schedules for obtaining entitlements and building permits, staff said.

"These financing tools and State bonuses will be more effective in producing affordable housing if paired with streamlined local processes to ensure that these units are brought to the market as quickly as possible," staff wrote.

The market-rate projects covered by the proposed amendments already must abide by the HAA, which "prohibits the City from denying or placing conditions on a project that would have the effect of reducing the project’s density."

The proposed amendments "would seek to provide a streamlined administrative process" for housing projects that "meet all objective standards in accordance with the HAA."

Staff will recommend that the interim ordinance -- which expires May 9 -- be extended for one year to give them time to make permanent revisions to the Zoning Ordinance.

Tuesday's Council vote comes less than three weeks after the Planning Commission voted 5-1 to recommend the proposed actions.


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