Thousands of apartments may come to Santa Monica, other wealthy cities under little-known law
The battle for the long-vacant buildings in Hollywood
The first thing Santa Monica resident Bill O’Neill noticed on his first visit to Santa Monica in 2008 was the street-level view of a sprawling, gray, four-story complex of low-slung buildings that housed offices, apartments and retail stores.
O’Neill was taken aback, he said, to see the huge lot that had been converted into a high-rise condominium community, the site of the old Santa Monica Pier. When he toured the city, O’Neill thought of the place as an oasis in a sea of urban sprawl, the city where the best of Los Angeles lives.
But on the other hand, O’Neill said, it looked more like a community “in the suburbs than in the city of Los Angeles.”
O’Neill was among a handful of developers, architects, residents and other observers who took a deep dive into a tale that is being told in almost total secrecy among a small group of Hollywood insiders. They have discovered that for decades, thousands of apartments in the heart of the city have been built without proper city approvals, or what the developers refer to as “legal permits.”
The findings were recently reported by the Southern California newspaper the Santa Monica Bay Citizen, which has published reports and interviews that are not widely known beyond a small group of individuals and organizations.
And, for the first time, the facts have been revealed in a city that is the economic engine of Santa Monica’s northern downtown district. The city has been transformed since O’Neill first visited there in 2008.
“It’s a very complex story,” O’Neill said. “I think a lot of us don’t know what to believe. We thought Hollywood was being developed properly.”
On the morning of Nov. 15, two years after a city commission meeting that ultimately paved the way for an unusual development project on Venice Boulevard, a developer known only as “Toby” set out to meet with residents of the street-level complex.
They all gathered in the parking lot of a building that was undergoing renovation to house the offices of the National Museum of African American History & Culture.
“At one point, we were going to be talking to more people, but then we realized they were going to be the only people there,” recalled Toby, who declined to give his