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New Council Kills Plaza Project
By Jorge Casuso
December 15, 2020 -- More than seven years of negotiations on The Plaza project ended Tuesday after three newly-elected City Council members cast their first significant vote.
Councilmembers Phil Brock, Oscar de la Torre and Christine Parra joined Mayor Sue Himmelrich in a 4-3 vote that killed the proposed 357,000-square-foot mixed-use hotel development on City owned land Downtown.
The vote -- cast after the Council discussed the item in closed session -- flipped a 6-1 decision to continue negotiations backed by the three incumbents ousted on November 3 ("Santa Monica Council Votes to Continue Negotiations on 'The Plaza' Project Downtown," July 29, 2020).
In casting the vote July 28, the Council had cited the revenues, jobs and housing the project would generate as the City tries to dig itself out of an economic hole triggered by the coronavirus shutdown.
Council members Gleam Davis, Kevin McKeown and Kristin McCowan reiterated their support to continue negotiations. Davis was the only Councilmember who explained her vote after the Council emerged from the closed-door meeting.
By killing "a very good project," Davis said, the City was postponing developing the 2.57-acre site "for an indefinite period into an indefinite future."
The City must now make the property available under the Surplus Land Act to "specified public agencies and housing sponsors" for low- and moderate income housing or open space.
Tuesday's vote comes nine months after a coalition of neighborhood and slow-growth groups sent City officials and developer Clarett West an ultimatum in February.
Withdraw the proposed project, they said, or we will fight to stop it ("Neighborhood, Slow-Growth Groups Band to Defeat 'The Plaza' Project," February 19, 2020).
The following week, the Council voted to halt negotiations over concerns they were in violation of California's recently expanded Surplus Land Act ("City Halts Negotiations on 'The Plaza' Project," February 26, 2020).
Efforts to resume negotiations hit a roadblock after the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) submitted legal arguments to stop the proposed development.
While the Council voted in July to resume the talks despite the pending litigation, negotiations were paused awaiting the results of the race for four full-term Council seats.
When three incumbents were ousted -- as many as had been unseated in the previous 26 years -- the votes were there to kill the project when the new Council met Tuesday.
The Plaza's fated journey began in 2013, when the Council chose Clarett West to develop the site formerly occupied by surface parking lots and two bank buildings the City bought a decade ago.
The project was scaled back in 2017 at the Council's request by removing two floors, eliminating half of the creative work space and adding more public space ("Plaza at Santa Monica' Project Scaled Back," February 8, 2017).
The latest proposal -- designed by the world-renown Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas -- included a 240-room luxury hotel, 106,800 square feet of creative workspace, approximately 40,000 square feet of open public space and 48 units of affordable housing.
The project was expected to generate long-term union hotel jobs, as well as temporary construction jobs, and pump several million a year into the City's coffers in ongoing bed tax revenues and other taxes.
On Tuesday, the Council was faced with three choices: continue negotiations on the existing project, negotiate an alternative proposal or cease negotiations.
According to sources familiar with the talks, the developer proposed to negotiate an alternative project that replaced the hotel and commercial mix with housing -- including onsite affordable units -- and more public open space.
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