Santa Monica City Council looks to higher-rise buildings to expand housing

The Santa Monica City Council hosted a meeting April 14, 2015, lasting more than five hours to address the issue of zoning, with 134 people lined up to speak for and against proposed changes.
The Santa Monica City Council hosted a meeting April 14, 2015, lasting more than five hours to address the issue of zoning, with 134 people lined up to speak for and against proposed changes.
Leo Duran/KPCC

Santa Monica's City Council spent two days tackling a controversial update to its zoning code.

After hearing hours of public comment on Tuesday night, the council met Wednesday night and expressed mostly support for the proposal to increase density throughout much of the city. They'll vote on it next month.

The proposed update to Santa Monica's zoning code would allow for taller buildings along major streets like Wilshire Avenue and Pico Boulevard. The idea is to concentrate development along specific corridors to prevent those same projects from heading into smaller neighborhoods.

The council heard from over 100 speakers Tuesday, some who argued that large buildings would harm the character of the community.

"I'm neither opposed to change nor development," said speaker Rachel Blumberg, "but I feel that this level of rapid, massive expansion is fool-hardy and dangerous."

But that sentiment never surfaced on Wednesday.

Instead, the council's conversation echoed statements made by residents like Elizabeth Tucci.

"I am really concerned about the lack of affordable housing," Tucci told the council. "Housing is either too expensive, or there just simply isn't any stock."

It's a sign that city leaders are committed to using density to create more homes – especially ones that are affordable.

"I'm not crazy about developing high-end condos for people," said Mayor Pro Tempore Tony Vazquez.

USC housing expert Richard Green says this local fight will be just the first of many as more communities in Southern California look to density as a solution to the housing shortage.

"You can have sprawl or you can have density," he says. "You can’t have a world without either."