Santa Monica’s economic redevelopment proposal for historic Pico Neighborhood aims to expand local workforce housing and hires

By Gary Walker

Santa Monica’s city council has an economic revitalization plan for the Pico Neighborhood in
the works

For decades the historic Pico Neighborhood in Santa Monica has lagged behind other parts of the affluent coastal community in economic prosperity.

That could soon change through an economic redevelopment proposal targeting the racially diverse neighborhood along with the creation of a community development corporation, expanding local hiring and purchasing preferences and streamlining the business permitting process.

The proposal would also include a push for workforce housing and increased coordination with local businesses and schools on career development.

Santa Monica City Councilman Greg Morena, one of the plan’s sponsors, says the objective was to refocus on a topic that has been discussed in years past.

“We’ve talked about this but we really haven’t organized it in a way where we talk about how we’re going to achieve the goals we want to set,” said Morena, whose family owns The Albright seafood restaurant in Santa Monica.

Santa Monica Mayor Pro Tem Terry O’Day and Councilwoman Maria Jara, a Pico Neighborhood resident, are the plan’s other sponsors.

O’Day told another publication that it was “a priority” to develop an economic blueprint for Pico small businesses and residents.

Not everyone thinks the economic plan is being designed with good intentions.

Pico Neighborhood resident Oscar de la Torre believes zoning changes along Pico Boulevard will displace low-income renters and open the door for newer, denser development and that will negate any potential economic prosperity.

“What they’re talking about is gentrification and eliminating small businesses in the name of progress,” asserted de la Torre, a member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School Board. “We support local hiring and local preferences in housing. They can do that without the zoning changes that they are planning.

“They’re using this to open the gateway to rapid gentrification of the Pico Neighborhood.”

Tyler LaFerriere, an associate economist at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation’s Institute of Applied Economics said the housing element needs more clarity but he is in favor of it in principal.

“Not only should we be increasing the housing stock to address affordability, but we should also be making it closer or more accessible to jobs-rich areas in Los Angeles County, which are predominantly the Westside, Beverly Hills, the Hollywood-Wilshire corridor, downtown Los Angeles and some parts of the San Fernando Valley. This not only has economic development implications but also environmental ones,  especially if workers have easy access to efficient mass transit or access to jobs that are in walking or biking distance,” Laferriere, a  Mar Vista resident, said.

Morena, who grew up near the Pico Neighborhood and like de la Torre is a lifelong resident, says the workforce housing component is critical to allow residents to live where they work.

“We’re seeing more and more those who grow up here are facing challenges to live and work here,” he said.

Laferriere likes other elements of the proposal, especially the one regarding permitting.

“I am almost always unequivocally in favor of relaxing permitting requirements, especially if it is cost-saving to businesses either directly or through time saved,” Laferriere said.

Regarding a community development corporation, he added: “If executed well, this could be a great idea. It also brings local larger businesses into the fold by giving them a direct stake (through matched investment, advice and education) in the success of Santa Monica’s entrepreneurs.”

Morena, who has hosted career days at Santa Monica High School for 12 years, said having a more fleshed-out method of connecting students to local jobs was a missing piece that needs connecting.

“We have students who are interested in public service and political science and they should have a direct path to City Hall,” he said.

The council is expected to vote on the economic plan before spring.