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Planning Commission Disappointed with Hotel Plans for Downtown Santa Monica  

By Jason Islas
Lookout Staff

December 20, 2011 -- The Santa Monica Planning Commission last week voted to give the City Council a laundry list of issues they have with two new hotels proposed for Downtown Santa Monica.

The commission decided not to recommend that the council to move forward with the development agreements for both Marriot and Hilton, which have floated preliminary designs for hotels adjacent to one another at Fifth Street and Colorado Avenue, until the applicants address the concerns.

“I think the hotel use makes sense from a revenue generation and a traffic generation use,” said Chair Jim Ries about the location of the proposed hotels, especially their proximity to the new light rail.

But Ries' support wasn't unqualified.

He said that although the hotels bring in some of the highest revenues for the city, they are also among the biggest energy consumers and pay some of the lowest wages in Santa Monica, according to a recent study by City staff.

“We currently in this city require contracts... to pay a living wage,” Commissioner Ted Winterer said.

“I personally believe that we'd rather have the people who work here also be able to live and play here,” Winterer said.

The applicants responded by saying that they hadn't looked into what a living wage would mean for Santa Monica so early in the process.

Winterer also pointed out that he'd like to see the hotels' designs include a higher sustainable rating. Currently, the designs would be LEED certified, but Winterer wanted to see them reach the LEED Silver designation.

Another concern was traffic flow and parking.

Hilton, which is developing the property at 501 Colorado Avenue, is looking for a reduction in the amount of parking currently required by the zoning code, especially in light of the arrival of the Expo Light Rail line in 2015.

The applicants both argued that proximity to the new light rail would be good for their corporate customers as well as their employee base, who would likely commute from farther inland.

Ries said that he'd like to see the hotels offer bus passes for employees in their transportation demand management (TDM) plan.

Commissioner Gerda Newbold was less supportive.

“I don't like these projects,” Newbold said. “I think it sort of creates this mid-range hotel row, and I don't think that's what we want right when we get off our light rail."

Commissioner Richard McKinnon disagreed, saying that there is a need for mid-range hotels in Santa Monica. But he called the designs “disappointing.”

The Commission voted on a separate motion for each property, recommending that the council not move forward with the proposed development agreements.

“I'm voting no because I don't think we should have two corporate chains right next to each other,” Newbold said about the Marriot development at 1554 Fifth Street, though she did support giving the motion for the Hilton property on Colorado Avenue.

Ries voted no on both motions.


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