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Santa Monica Commission Rejects Remodeling Plan for Former Mayor’s Home

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

October 13, 2015 -- A multi-year battle between former Santa Monica mayor Mike Feinstein and his landlords will continue after the Planning Commission on Wednesday rejected a proposal for the remodeling of the back of the house on the second floor.

It was a lively session with Feinstein accusing his landlords of breaking the law and City staff of allowing it to happen. The landlords said they were frustrated and wanted a conclusion to the issue.

The commission was hearing an appeal of a decision by the Architectural Review Board (ARB) to allow the owners of the four-bedroom rent-controlled house on Hollister Avenue to seal the back of the second floor, where a balcony once stood.

This appeal hearing began last month, and the commission concluded that session by asking City staff and the owners to adjust the plans so they would include creating “articulation” and “retain[ing] dimensionality of the opening” in the back.

An adjusted proposal was put forward just prior to this week's session, but after much discussion that included many technicalities, the owners withdrew the proposal and asked the commission to vote on the one approved by the ARB.

The vote was 5-0 to reject the plan approved by the ARB and uphold Feinstein’s appeal.

Commissioners said the proposal did not meet the criteria needed for the house to be compatible with the community, among other criticisms.  

Commissioner Gerda Newbold said she was frustrated.

“It feels like we’re going to get back on the cycle,” she said. “And I’m sure it’s frustrating for the owners and frustrating for the tenant.”

Newbold continued, “I don’t see a better solution, but it feels like we’re in a Catch-22 or rats on a cage. And it’s going to be taking staff time and money.”

Commissioner Jason Parry said he, too, was frustrated. He said the updated proposal withdrawn by the owners during the hearing was “something headed in the right direction” and that with some adjustments, the matter could have been settled that night.

To Feinstein, this episode was something that went beyond a tenant-owner dispute or a repair job. He called the proposal “a joke” and “a little paint job.” It was incompatible, he said, with a neighborhood that includes many homes with balconies in the back.

Feinstein said the balcony had been removed illegally in 2011 and the City had been unresponsive to his complaints about code violations.

He added that the plans were not environmentally sustainable and accused the owners of having an ulterior motive for them -- to make room for a new parking space in the back. Also, he said they were punishing him for drying his clothes outside.

Many people supported Feinstein's arguments through letters to the commission. Three people spoke in favor of his side during the public testimony portion of the hearing.

“This is a violation of the social contract of who we are as a neighborhood,” Feinstein said. “Breaking laws the way this has happened, it’s just so, so wrong. And you’re the only ones who can stop it at this point.”

The owners did not respond to Feinstein's accusations and only spoke briefly about their proposal. They said the commission was possibly going beyond how a house remodeling plan should be handled.

“I understand that the Planning Commission often weighs in on large developments and they’re looking out for all kinds of important considerations," co-owner Margaret Maclean said. "This is a back of a house. I don’t think we can solve all of the neighborhood’s problems with whatever solution we eventually come up with."

The owners said their stronger interest was in remodeling the front of the home so that it could more closely resemble how it looked originally. They hoped the issues with the back of the home could conclude soon.

Since the back of the home is deteriorated, a code compliance violation has been issued. So the owners will have to do something. New plans would eventually go to the ARB, and they too can be appealed to the Planning Commission.

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