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Miramar Project Not a Good Deal for Santa Monica

By Denny Zane,

Santa Monica residents have waged a long battle to protect their city from becoming an exclusive and expensive beachside resort.

The battle in the early 70s to save the Pier, the fight for rent control in the late 70s and subsequent fights against major developments were all, at their core, battles to preserve an economically inclusive community.

The gentrifying impact of the proposed Fairmont Miramar Hotel redevelopment with 60 luxury condos for the super-wealthy is a direct challenge to this inclusive character, especially of Downtown and the Promenade.

That alone should be sufficient for the City to say, no, thank you. But, beyond these issues of community character, the project is just not a good deal for Santa Monica.

What if the project were to be built as a 130-foot hotel project with all hotel rooms rather than the super-luxury condos, consistent with the City’s basic planning objectives?

For such a project, the 60 condos would be replaced by about 260 new hotel rooms. Unlike condos, new hotel rooms would generate significant new transient occupancy tax (TOT) revenue.

At the same room rates and occupancy rates as the initial 312 hotel rooms, these condo-replacement hotel rooms would generate between $12 miilion and $15 million per year.

What sort of increased TOT revenue do the super-luxury condos provide? 0, zero, zip, nada!

I don’t know for sure, but I will bet that there are also more good jobs for hotel workers created by 260 new hotel rooms than by 60 condos which may go unoccupied much of the year.

So why would a city approve a project with 60 condos and modest new revenue when a very similar project could be approved with more hotel rooms instead of condos that would generate an additional $12 to $15 million per year?

Why would any city do this? Oh, the proposed 42 affordable housing units? That is the community benefit the developer proposes.

But with the new revenue from replacing condos with hotel rooms the City could build 20 to 30 new units per year. After two years, we could have built at least 40 units with funding for more every year thereafter if we chose to devote the new revenue to affordable housing. And, we should.

Surprisingly, the Alternatives Analysis for the project never mentions this most obvious alternative, though it is the alternative that most directly conforms with the City’s land use policies and objectives for the site and would generate the greatest revenue for the City.

Instead, the Alternatives Analysis only considers and quickly rejects a hotel-only alternative that simply replaces the current 301 rooms with 312 rooms. What?

It is true that the developer has said that they need the 60 condos to make the project pencil-out.

Santa Monica’s late Mayor Ken Edwards in 1984 said to a developer making a similar complaint before the City Council, “Here, use my pencil!”

In addition, eliminating the condos also eliminates the “need” to structure parking to ensure condo owners do not encounter hotel visitors and workers. This class-based parking results in three separate entrances and exits with one off of densely populated California Avenue.

Those Santa Monica neighbors love the new traffic in their neighborhood! Not! This is Santa Monica -- we should not accept class-based parking. And it might save project costs.

What could the City do with an unexpected additional $12 to $15 million per year beyond what would already be nearly double the revenue from the first 312 rooms in the new development?

Sample spending priorities for $15 million per year:

$4 million per year to provide rental assistance citywide to very low-income seniors at-risk of becoming homeless;

$7 million per year to build new affordable housing citywide, and

$4 M per year to create and implement a new Pico Neighborhood Gentrification Prevention and Restorative Justice program.

It’s time.

Denny Zane is Co-Founder and Co-Chair of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR)

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