The LookOut Letters to the Editor
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New Santa Monica Hotel Project Doesn't Respect Community Values

July 24, 2013

Dear Editor,

Thank you for publishing “Two Small hotels in Downtown Santa Monica Spark Labor Concerns,” by Jason Islas. In recent months commercial development, and particularly the development of hotel properties, have dominated the discourse of Santa Monica public and political life. But little attention has been paid to the troubling hotel proposal submitted by OTO Development to build two hotels at the corners of Colorado and Fifth, nor the larger questions that surround development projects beyond height and density. While this project has largely gone underreported, it has been closely watched by concerned community groups and activists.

The organization I work for, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, has been closely following this project since the fall of 2012. Several local religious leaders and lay people who have long been engaged in issues of economic justice in this city remain deeply concerned about many elements of the project which will come up for review before the Planning Commission on July 24th, 2013.

In letters to OTO Development, The Santa Monica City Council, and also the Planning Commission, our local CLUE Santa Monica Committee has shared some of our deep misgivings about the commitment of OTO Development to significant community values of economic fairness and equity that many Santa Monicans have fought hard to preserve.

After reading through the staff report on the proposed Development Agreement, we find ourselves identifying further concerns. We don’t believe that this hotel development project adequately addresses environmental concerns, historic preservation concerns, or proactively deals with traffic and parking impacts. In fact we are alarmed that the project does not meet even 1/3 of the parking provision that is required for zoning of the two properties, made no attempt at adaptive reuse of the existing historic property on site, and does not currently meet the city recommended Gold LEED Certification Standard.

Additionally we have significant concerns about OTO Development’s commitment to worker training, local hiring with an accountability mechanism, and wages that respect the standard that has been fought for in Santa Monica hotels.

The living wage proposed in their DA is below the established one that Santa Monica uses for its own contracts, and significantly below the standard hourly wage of unionized hotels in our city. This is a company that has known unprecedented economic prosperity during the Great Recession. Since 2008 OTO Development has increased its revenue from $20.2million fivefold to $128 million in 2011.* Despite this, there is no commitment in this DA to support the Cradle to Career initiative or the Hospitality Training Academy, a project that SM City Council recently unanimously voted to fund that will work explicitly to train local Opportunity Youth for good jobs in local hotels and could ensure local hiring. The proposal submitted to Planning Commission seriously fails to address any of these concerns.

This is not shocking. OTO Development, a South Carolina corporation that does not have one union hotel in its entire portfolio and operates brands that are known for employing workers at poverty wages, has consistently failed to demonstrate that they understand what Santa Monicans value.

We openly encourage the Planning Commission to reject this project which we believe cheapens the value of Santa Monica as a prime development spot. It sets a dangerous precedent for future development.

Santa Monica is a jewel by the sea. We do not have to sell our community or its values short. If a developer does not value what residents and workers in this community have fought hard to maintain in our desire to ensure responsible development, respect for our environment, and good jobs then they do not need to build here. Some other corporation will understand what it means to share these values and will be willing to make a proposal that does not require concessions from our city leadership that compromise a shared Santa Monica vision of a healthy, stable, diverse, and livable community.

Sincerely,
Pastor Bridie C. Roberts
Program Director, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, Los Angeles
(and longtime Santa Monica resident)

*Anderson, Trevor. “Local hospitality company does well despite economic downturn.” Spartanburg Herald Journal. October 6, 2012. Accessed at http://www.goupstate.com/article/20121006/articles/121009721


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