Low-income workers in the shops and restaurants along Main Street may be excited to learn of the city's plan to provide 160 new affordable housing units as part of its redevelopment project. But some nearby residents and downtown merchants aren't as enthusiastic.
"The project succeeds poorly at meeting the goals of integrating different income groups into neighborhoods," said Mary Marlow, president of the Ocean Park Association, a group that promotes area businesses and has a resident mailing list of more than 1,000. "There is plenty of shopping for people who can afford the market rate housing in the project at the newly upscale Santa Monica Mall and the Promenade, but not much for people living in the affordable apartments."
Construction on the project, which was approved by the city in 2005, is slated to begin in the fall of 2011. Along with 20,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial retail space, the structural portion of the Civic Center Village will consist of 324 residential units, nearly half of which will be classified as affordable housing. Approximately 28 one-bedroom, 56 two-bedroom, and 66 three-bedroom residences between $466 and $1,292 will become available, with priority given to low-income laborers who work within city limits. Additionally, there will be 10 affordable units of live/work space intended for artists.
Diane Jackson, who opened the Main Street artisan gallery Mindfulnest about 10 weeks ago, called the project "forward-thinking" and stressed that people should be able to live where they work. She also said she favored any effort by the City to reduce traffic and air pollution.
"It's nice to see everybody riding their bicycles up and down the street," she said from behind the sales counter of her store. "The parking and the traffic problems here are awful. And a lot of that is people who work here who could walk to work instead from the Civic Center or ride their bike."
But, some who oppose the planned location of the housing—in the northeast corner of the intersection of Olympic Drive and Ocean Avenue (see attached graphic)—say that rather than alleviating traffic, the project may worsen it.
"There are no nearby grocery stores or schools for anyone living there, making a car a necessity," Marlow said. "Ocean Park will experience more traffic as a result, as will the downtown area."
She proposed the newly created along Olympic Blvd. between 26th and 28th/Stewart streets, as a more suitable area for any new housing. Marlow also took issue with the City allocating what she called "valuable and scarce open space" toward residential development.
"Dedicating public open space to a select group of people shows a lack of vision in city planning and a parcel approach to planning rather than looking at how the space fits in the city as a whole," she said.
Santa Monica's Director of Housing and Economic Development Andy Agle defended the location choice and pointed out that the City went through an extensive community planning process for the City's Civic Center Specific Plan, which will include a pair of new parks.
"That plan specifically called for housing—and diverse housing—in this area," he said. "One of the most important reasons was that this area has no residents right now. It's quiet on the weekends and the area will benefit from having residents. And the parks will benefit from having stakeholders in [them]. This is going to be a great place to live; it's close to amenities, to light rail, to shops.
Still, some shopkeepers expressed concerns about a negative impact on their foot traffic, saying the neighborhood's character might deteriorate, making it less of a destination spot for their upscale customer base.
"I think the city should provide affordable housing but not here," said one young clothing boutique owner who withheld her name. "If I didn't have a business on this street, I'd be all for it because it wouldn't affect me. A lot of businesses are struggling to make rent already on Main Street. It would only hurt us."
Such fears are unfounded, said Jackson, who lives in Redondo Beach.
"I think they're just afraid of having people that they don't think are the right socio-economic group in Santa Monica, which is absurd," she said. "I mean I wasn't always in the right socio-economic group myself. I don't think it's going to hurt my business to have the busboy next door live in my neighborhood."
Marlow said it's not about socio-economics so much as it is about age and lifestyle.
"If you look at that area, it's more of a lifestyle thing," she said. "It's not for people with kids in school; it's for young people, particularly singles or couples without kids, who want an urban environment and don't need traditional family services. They're more likely to eat out and are not so worried about having grocery stores nearby.
"It's not so much an issue of class," she said, "but just one of lifestyle."
To view the submitted plans for the project, click here.