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Santa Monica Chamber Opposes Proposal for Voter Approval of Large Developments Downtown


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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

July 6, 2017 -- Santa Monica’s biggest business group says a plan guiding development downtown through 2030 fails to provide enough housing and is too harsh on a trio of big hotel-mixed use projects, including possible requirements for public approval.

After six years of often acrimonious debate, the Downtown Community Plan (DCP) heads to the City Council on Monday for a final public hearing. The special session starts at 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall, 1685 Main Street.

The Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce is rallying its members to make a showing at the hearing, as are its rivals in the development battle -- the slow-growth movement.

The final draft of the DCP does not “responsibly address our regional housing supply crisis,” Carl Hansen, the chamber’s director of government affairs, said in an email to members this week.

“The housing crisis is making it harder for your employees to afford to live near their job," he wrote. “We should not be downzoning our downtown while we desperately need new housing.

About 60 percent of Downtown Santa Monica renters are "rent burdened," spending at least 30 percent of their incomes on housing, Hansen said.

City planners characterize the DCP as a housing plan first, and aim to see construction of up to 5,975 units downtown, or a 115 percent jump, through 2030.

As part of that effort, the City is transforming busy commuter thoroughfares, such as Lincoln Boulevard, into neighborhoods of five and six-story mixed-used apartment complexes.

Officials anticipate a 73 percent increase in the downtown residential population, from 4,700 residents currently to 7,800 residents in the next 13 years.

Although City officials want more affordable housing in the DCP, meeting its affordable housing goals will likely be a challenge.

A 1990 law requiring 30 of new housing be deemed affordable (and half of that just for the most financially troubled) has failed to meet the mark for years now ("Construction of Affordable Housing in Santa Monica Expected to Drop Again," February 7, 2017).

The chamber is especially concerned with the fate of three large hotel-mixed use projects -- the redevelopment of the Miramar Hotel, a new hotel on Ocean Avenue designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry and a mixed-use hotel project on City owned land at 4th and 5th streets and Arizona Avenue.

All three are anchored by luxury hotels that would generate tax revenues for the City, add affordable housing and boost the Downtown economy, chamber officials said.

The plan would cap the height of the three projects -- which already have been scaled back after facing opposition from slow-growth advocates -- to 130 feet, or about 12 stories ("Santa Monica Downtown Plan Seeks to Strike a Compromise, Officials Say, But Some Remain Skeptical," April 13, 2017).

Imposing height limits, the chamber’s email said, “fails to allow for the evolution of Santa Monica as a hospitality leader.”

Additional height and density should be allowed in the three sites, which in return would help power the city’s reputation as a hospitality destination, as well as “provide iconic architecture and valuable community benefits,” Hansen wrote.

“These projects would provide new customers for our downtown businesses, supporting small independent restaurants and the vibrant pedestrian character the plan prioritizes,” he said.

They also would create jobs, generate limited traffic and provide a financial bounty for the City, Hansen said.

The chamber also opposes proposals to subject such large-scale projects to either a vote of the public for approval or a super-majority vote of the seven-member council.

In its report on the DCP, City staff does not recommend either option.


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