By Kevin McKeown, Mayor
First, thank you. Thank you for electing me to my fifth term, again as top vote getter, and thank you for the privilege of (at last!) serving as your Mayor.
I am a renter. This winter I marked 39 years in my home, thanks to rent control. It was as a renter and a resident, not just everyone’s Mayor, that I presented this year’s annual State of the City address to the Chamber of Commerce.
Having lived most of my life in one Santa Monica apartment, I have inevitably seen many things change in our community over time. The theme of the Chamber’s event was “Game Changers,” the factors that will affect upcoming further changes.
Because the Chamber was the host, I made sure to touch on game changers of interest to businesses, such as shifting demographics and the impact of technology. Most of my comments, though, had to do with issues directly affecting renters.
Santa Monica’s affordable housing challenges include keeping existing renters secure in our apartments.
At my first Council meeting as Mayor, with great help from SMRR, we passed a strengthened tenant harassment ordinance (written about in detail elsewhere in this newsletter).
Unfortunately, some renters may still, unavoidably, be displaced through evictions made possible by state laws like the Ellis Act. For them, our continued production of truly affordable housing will be crucial. Santa Monica renters forced out of their apartments by Ellis evictions go to the top of the placement list for local deed-restricted affordable housing, where they will not only remain Santa Monica residents, but gain enhanced housing security going forward.
We cannot afford to lose our dwindling supply of existing affordable housing. Future growth cannot be allowed to displace existing residents. As I plainly declared at the Chamber-hosted State of the City event, “If anyone plans a project that will evict my neighbors, I will stand with my neighbors.”
Fighting gentrification and displacement project by project will become less necessary starting this spring, when the City Council adopts a new zoning code for our city. We have worked closely with SMRR leadership, neighborhood groups, and Planning Commissioner and longtime SMRR activist Jennifer Kennedy, to make sure the new code protects existing occupied rental housing. New development that might have resulted in Ellis evictions if it were allowed in residential neighborhoods will instead be shifted to boulevards served by transit, reducing not only displacement but traffic as well.
The new zoning code will also put strict limits on heights, inappropriate density, and incursions of commercial activity into residential neighborhoods. We renters should follow this process closely, and support the changes that benefit residents but may be opposed by commercial property owners and their land use attorneys. On May 5th, the Council will begin work on a first reading of the new ordinance, based on direction we gave last week after we and the Planning Commission heard over a year of public input. The zoning discussion will be carried live on CityTV as well as viewable via streaming video at our City website.
Much has been debated lately about water, and that topic was another of my State of the City “game changers.” The ongoing drought will is forcing new long-term policies, including rethinking water rates and conservation goals.
We renters can be proud! City staff review of water bills show that 80% of multi-family buildings have already implemented water conservation at or beyond the new goals we are setting. Those who claim we renters are water wasters because our units are not individually metered are creating an issue that simply doesn’t exist. We all, of course, must continue to be successful stewards of an increasingly precious resource, but the burden of further reducing water use will fall mostly on businesses and on residential properties that still have extensive, climate-inappropriate landscaping.
With growth, development, and traffic on everyone’s minds, my last theme in the State of the City address was the growing empowerment of residents. SMRR took a leading role in the successful residents’ effort that stopped the over-sized and over-commercial Hines project. Now, having successfully elected to the City Council SMRR-supported former Planning Commissioner Sue Himmelrich, we have an additional strong voice and vote for residents’ interests.
We will all see what a big difference SMRR success in an election can make as your new City Council works through the new zoning code and other land use issues that affect your daily quality of life.
I’m proud to have the privilege of helping lead this City Council as your Mayor.