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Re: Housing Element Update - Planning Commission Agenda Item 10A

November 18, 2020

Re: Planning Commission Agenda Item 10A - Housing Element Update

Dear Santa Planning Commission,

Santa Monica Forward writes to you regarding the 6th Cycle Housing Element. This is an exciting time for Santa Monica as we define our strategy for housing growth over the next 8 years.

There is a lot we could say about specific policy or strategies to best achieve our housing goals. We trust there will be many opportunities for that in the future. However, the purpose of our letter today is to simply underscore why this process matters.

Santa Monica used to be a middle-class city. However, rising rents and home prices are now pushing far too many away. Most of our teachers, firefighters, and nurses can no longer afford to live here. Worse, two-thirds of Santa Monica families believe their own children will not be able to stay. And these are the “lucky” ones because they have the means to move elsewhere. The most vulnerable have even fewer options as evidenced by the nearly 1,000 Santa Monica residents who are homeless every night.

This tragedy is the direct result of local policy failures. Since the 1970s, Santa Monica has permitted far fewer homes per resident than the rest of California. During this period, California’s population has nearly doubled whereas Santa Monica’s due to hyper-restrictive land use policies has grown by less than 5%. As a result, Santa Monica rents and home values are now among the highest in the state, housing insecurity is experienced by large numbers of our residents, and our homeless population, as a percentage of the total population, is almost 3x larger than California’s as a whole.

The 6th Cycle Housing Element is an opportunity to finally fix this tragedy. In recent years, California elected officials have updated RHNA to make its requirements more accurate. Santa Monica’s requirement is the result of a robust public process which accounted for existing shortages, access to transit, overcrowding, future population growth, and a variety of other scientific metrics. The number was not pulled out of thin-air, as some have alleged, but was the result of a lengthy, fact-based process that had the support of Governor Gavin Newsom, elected officials across California, and multiple experts who dedicate their lives to housing policy. If we take our RHNA requirements seriously, as we hope you will, Santa Monica will make meaningful progress in addressing its housing crisis.

Beyond our moral obligation to address our housing crisis, Santa Monica also has a legal obligation to do so. RHNA is not a suggestion but a mandate that has been enshrined in state law for many decades. As any lawyer not named Rudy Giuliani would tell you, your opinion of the law should have no bearing on whether you comply with the law. Nonetheless, some in Santa Monica have floated the idea of skirting our legal obligations for no reason beyond garden-variety NIMBYism. We want to emphasize – ignoring state housing law is a very bad idea. The penalties are onerous, and quite certain as Huntington Beach learned in a lawsuit with the California Attorney General earlier this year. All this lawsuit got them was time in court, an expensive legal bill, and an embarrassing loss which is now cited by many across California as an example of exactly what not to do.

We look forward to working with you in the months to come. This process will be a critical test of our values but we have no doubt that Santa Monica is capable of setting a bold example for others to follow. With courage and conviction, Santa Monica can demonstrate that we are a city dedicated to progressive governance, well-being, and equity and opportunity for all.


Abby Arnold Carl Hansen

Co-chair, Santa Monica Forward Co-chair, Santa Monica Forward

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