Two weeks ago, during an extended study session on the proposed Zoning Code revision, the City Council spent a lot of time discussing the proposed Tier 3 development.
Council members Terry O’Day, Pam O’Connor and Gleam Davis vehemently defended the inclusion of Tier 3. In the previous Council, the three of them, and Bob Holbrook, who did not run for re-election, constituted a majority of four. Each of the four took campaign contributions from developers and returned the favor by approving their projects.
Some months ago, the Santa Monica Transparency Group filed 31 complaints, alleging O’Connor, then the mayor, had accepted illegal campaign contributions. Subsequently, O’Day allegedly founded a PAC, funded it with developers’ money and headlined a mailer for O’Connor and Frank Gruber “Responsible Leadership for A Better Santa Monica.” It got more laughs than votes. Gruber lost. O’Connor ran 2,000 votes behind incumbent Kevin McKeown and newcomer Sue Himmelrich. The new majority of four consisted of McKeown. Himmelrich, and Council members.Tony Vazquez and Ted Winterer. None of them takes developer money. The new minority of three consisted of O’Day, O’Connor and Davis. Davis, like the O’s, took money from developers.
The Planning Commission, which literally spent years revising the Zoning Code, came late to approval of Tier 3, which the Planning staff liked, but most residents opposed. Now Davis pushed for Tier 3 — 55 feet tall, first floors commercial and upper floors residential.
O’Connor enlarged on Davis’s thesis that the state’s cancellation of its redevelopment agencies made it impossible for the City to finance affordable housing without the so-called community benefits that derive from market rate residential projects.
Engaging in bizarre wishful thinking, O’Connor said, “I guess you could say, I’m only for affordable housing and to heck with anybody who has some success in life, who wants to live in Santa Monica, who came home after they went away to college, and happened to get a good education, so they’re not living at the level that they would qualify for, but we don’t want to build housing for them. We don’t them to live here,” O’Connor said.
Opposing the elimination of Tier 3 development on the mixed-used boulevards, she dubbed the code “the rich get richer zoning code.”
She concluded melodramatically, “You can beat your chest and say I’m for affordable housing,” she said, “but you’re not going to see much of it built.”
Davis seconded the notion. “If we limit this to affordable housing we will never get affordable housing for seniors who are on retirement,” she said. “We will never get affordable housing built for people who are on disability. The only way we’re going to get those kinds of units is if we make them inclusionary and put those type of requirements in a Tier 3 type of development where we can do some type of negotiation.
“If we want to transform Wilshire, and maybe we don’t, that’s another thing we should be honest about: We like Wilshire the way it is. Chase bank building, car wash, the occasional restaurant, one story, no housing, that’s fine. But let’s be honest about it because unless you start to build some density along the boulevards you’re not going to transform the boulevards,” she said.
Davis then indulged in a little word play, saying the city suffers from “affluenza.”
“We have a lot of rich people here,” she said. “What I see, then, is we’re going to have 100 percent affordable housing and then we’re going to have everybody else. We are going to be the epitome of what is wrong in this country, which is we’re going to have people who can live in subsidized housing and rich people and we’re not going to have a middle class.”
“I think we have it right now,” Vazquez said. “Santa Monica will have a wide gap between the rich and the poor. “All the housing we have now is for the rich.”
Apparently, neither O’Connor nor Davis saw any connection between the campaign contributions they took from developers and the current housing imbalance. But a great many residents and McKeown, Vazquez, Winterer and Himmelrich do.
The Council has yet to make any definitive decisions. On May 6, it will hold what will ostensibly be the definitive meeting. Or not. The majority of four have the last word now.