How Santa Monica Almost Lost Its Zoning Authority

An unprecedented construction blitz has been halted in the City of Santa Monica after action from the state.

In one of the biggest “oh sh*t” moments to come out of a city in recent memory, Santa Monica announced last week that it had accidentally abolished its zoning code for most of 2022.  

By the time Planning Manager Jing Yeo revealed the mishap, salivating developers had pounced, submitting plans for 16 new projects, including a 15-story, 2,000-unit project (!!!) near the light-rail Expo Line.  

“This is very real and it’s happening. These are projects that, as long as they include 20 percent on-site affordable or a 100 percent moderate [-income housing], we must approve those projects,” Yeo said. 

The culprit was a provision of the Housing Accountability Act known as the builder’s remedy. It says cities that fail to submit compliant housing plans lose their zoning authority over projects with an affordable housing component. In February, the state deemed Santa Monica to be out of compliance with the law.

The Santa Monica City Council scrambled to adopt a new Housing Element update. It has now received state approval, allowing Santa Monica to avoid calamity — or YIMBY utopia, depending on your outlook. Under the updated plan, Santa Monica has agreed to zone for nearly 9,000 new units. Of those, 6,100 will be affordable housing. 

Santa Monica is safe. But San Francisco may not be. Read more about that here.