Affordable spaces for small businesses

Los Angeles County recently offered a program offering financial incentives to certain “Legacy” family businesses in their original historic locations. They have been facing financial hardship for various reasons such as COVID, gentrification and increasing commercial real estate rents, development and land values. These are our “mom and pop shops”, and Los Angeles loses many of these unique and symbolic places that help support and be part of the Los Angeles community. Does this sound familiar to you with what’s going on here in Santa Monica?

These financial difficulties not only affect “legacy” businesses, but also damage the fabric of many of our local small businesses and neighborhood communities. All qualified small businesses should be given due consideration and support, not just legacy “brand” businesses that inspire tourism or have historic value.

Many factors contribute to this dilemma; but for now, let’s look at all the new “mixed-use” developments that are proposed and under construction here in Santa Monica as many small businesses are relocated as a result. Granted, it’s partly the natural progression of healthy economic development and community betterment, but when it stifles the ability of many small family businesses to stay here and they’re forced to close and to leave a place and neighborhood they served for many years, if not generations, does no good to the local economy and our reputation, as the cost of goods and services must rise to pay for new market rents, and that robs our community of some of the businesses that we have developed love and value.

This is happening all over the country. Small businesses are being evicted because they are unable to afford the new higher commercial rents in these developments. These include laundromats, cafes, restaurants, daycares, gyms, small nonprofit arts organizations, community centers, theaters, beauty salons, bookstores, and faith-based institutions that contribute to a special and unique neighborhood atmosphere, vision and identity.

There is a lot of attention and debate about affordable and low income housing development, and it is forgotten that many of the very developments that are supposed to provide affordable and low income housing are eliminating many small businesses that would service and be affordable for those low-income occupants, or at best, relocate them to areas that will generally require more transportation and time to avail of said goods and services.

When all of these apartments are built and filled, where will low-income renters have to go to get certain affordable goods and services? As this gentrification intensifies, many small businesses disappear, often replaced by chain stores, banks, or high-end restaurants and supermarkets. Do the people of Santa Monica want the vision and direction to be here? Santa Monica needs to better support small family businesses across the overall economic spectrum if we are to continue to push affordable, low-income housing development and have a successful and sustainable transformation.

There are currently no provisions or protections in our zoning and permitting process for small commercial businesses. It is high time that qualified small businesses were granted certain rights and opportunities that will help them preserve their business so they can continue to thrive and serve our community.

There must be an integrated and planned business base that will be able to meet all community needs in various neighborhoods, including occupants of affordable, low-income and subsidized housing.

Perhaps a vision and direction for each neighborhood as part of a master plan would preserve qualified and existing neighborhood services as an integral part of everyday life here.

It says a lot about our priorities and our values ​​if we don’t act and recognize their importance. Business and investor markets favor businesses and institutions that typically cater to a more affluent clientele and most developers will continue to replicate these types of spaces. There’s nothing wrong with that and I encourage and appreciate well-planned and sensible high-end development, but there needs to be a balance and a fairer system put in place that represents everyone’s needs, including our new affordable and low-income housing. residents. Without revised zoning and permitting policies that recognize non-residential displacement and target this issue, we will pay the price in the long run as many of the businesses that make our city unique, more affordable and special disappear, one by one.

Let’s at least acknowledge this problem and start a conversation about potential solutions at all levels for new and proposed developments (some of which already exist in part but not as a blueprint). For instance;

  1. Zoning: Special zoning districts proposed by neighborhood community groups that limit certain retail space to discourage the proliferation of big box stores and chain stores and prioritize single family businesses.
  2. Breakdown of low-income business units: Mandate a percentage of commercial space on the ground floor and second floor to be allocated to be more affordable for small businesses according to a predetermined formula.
  3. Tax incentives: Allowances and subsidies for landlords who provide long-term leases for qualified family businesses “serving the community”.
  4. Targeted use of municipal grants: The city has subsidized developments for small mom and pop shops and start-up businesses not only on Pico Blvd, but also on Santa Monica Blvd, Wilshire Blvd and other locations around the city.

Applied cooperatively and thoughtfully and if implemented wisely by both public and private actors, there would be a noticeable impact in preserving the existing cultural vitality of our great little city.

Michel Jolly, AIRRE

Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Future: Ron Goldman, FAIA Architect; Dan Jansenson, Architect, Building and Fire Safety Commissioner; Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA, commissioner for urban planning; Robert H. Taylor, Architect AIA: Thane Roberts, Architect; Sam Tolkin, architect; Marc Verville retired accountant; Michel Jolly, AIRRE

[email protected]

Michael J. Chiaramonte