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Neighborhood, Slow-Growth Groups Band to Defeat 'The Plaza' Project
By Jorge Casuso
February 19, 2020 -- A coalition of neighborhood and slow-growth groups sent an ultimatum Tuesday to City officials and the developer of "The Plaza at Santa Monica" -- withdraw the proposed project or we will fight to stop it.
The nine groups predicted they would defeat the 357,000-square-foot mixed-use hotel development proposed by Clarett West on City owned land in the heart of Downtown.
The project includes 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, according to the Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
"We are writing to notify you and Clarett West that organized resident opposition has formed to your proposed project on 4th and Arizona and we are committed to stopping it from going forward," the letter said.
"We urge you to withdraw this plan before engaging in a protracted battle.
"If not, based on residents’ strong feelings and our history with unpopular development proposals in our city, we are confident we will prevail," the letter said.
The groups compared "The Plaza" project to Macerich's fated 2004 proposal to replace Santa Monica Place with a "massive high-rise development on public land."
The letter warns Clarett West not to follow similar promises made by the City that misled Macerich to underestimate resident opposition to the proposal, which included 21-story condo towers.
"The City presented a wish list for the site to the developer, and the company was led down a primrose path to believe that residents would not object," the letter said.
"We did. Residents defeated the proposal but unfortunately, not before Macerich spent time and resources trying to accomplish what it thought the City wanted."
Frank Stephan, who heads Clarett West, said the company has been working with the City since it was chosen from among a dozen developers that responded to a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the site seven years ago.
The City had circulated the RFP after purchasing the properties on the 2.7-acre-site formerly occupied by surface parking lots and two bank buildings a decade ago.
"From our standpoint, this project has been a ten-year vision process by the City of Santa Monica," Stephan said. "It's been a real collaboration with the City."
Stephan noted that the project had been scaled back in 2017 at the request of the City Council by removing two floors and eliminating half of the creative work space ("Plaza at Santa Monica' Project Scaled Back," February 8, 2017).
The revised proposal includes 41,557 square feet of public open space that features pocket parks and a park on the second level that would have "a year-long calendar of community programming," Stephan said.
The proposed project will generate between $7 million and $8 million a year in local taxes, Stephan said.
"This project will be a long-term revenue stream to the City that will benefit the community for the next 99 years," Stephan said, referring to the length of the proposed lease.
Opponents said the tradeoffs in community benefits are not enough to offset the loss of "the last major parcel of undeveloped public land in the heart of our city" and the approximately 5,000 new car trips a day the project is expected to generate "in the already gridlocked Downtown."
The proposed project, the letter said, "imposes an eleven- or twelve-story fortress spanning three hundred feet between two public streets that is the antithesis of Santa Monica."
The letter noted that other projects on public land -- the proposed replacement of the Pier and the proposed luxury hotel at the Annenberg Beach House site -- had been killed by community opposition.
"Santa Monicans are smart and organized and have realized that your project does not deliver anything desired or needed by city residents," the letter said.
"Just as the Macerich Company wisely realized they would never see their project built, we hope you will reach the same conclusion now, rather than years from now," the letter concluded.
"When the essential character of the City is at stake, residents will fight."
The letter was signed by the Boards of Friends of Sunset Park, North of Montana Association, Pico Neighborhood Association, Mid City Neighbors, Santa Monica Northeast Neighbors and Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition.
In addition to the neighborhood groups, the Boards of Residocracy, Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City and Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow signed the letter.
It was sent to the City Manager, City Attorney, City Council and Planning Commission, as well as to Clarett West.
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