Council directs staff to end negotiations with the developer of The Plaza at Santa Monica
By Sam Catanzaro
Led by the votes of newly-elected councilmembers and the recently chosen mayor, Santa Monica City Council has voted to stop a controversial hotel proposal in the heart of downtown.
At the December 15 Santa Monica City Council meeting, Council directed staff to cease negotiations with the developers of The Plaza at Santa Monica. The proposal called for an 11-story, 240-room luxury hotel, with 106,800 square feet of creative office space, approximately 40,000 square feet of open public space and 48 units of affordable housing at 4th Street and Arizona Avenue in Downtown Santa Monica.
Council voted 4-3 in favor of ceasing negotiations with developer Clarett West. Among those who voted to end the project was recently-chosen Mayor Sue Himmelrich, in her first significant vote in the role.
“I voted against this project on public land, as I did last summer, because it never delivered sufficient value to the City either in its affordable housing, open space, or revenue. I look forward to working with my colleagues and the public to find a reimagined project that does deliver superior value to us on this prime City-owned property,” Himmelrich told the Mirror.
“it never delivered sufficient value to the City either in its affordable housing, open space, or revenue.”Mayor Sue Himmelrich
Negotiations were put on hold in July after slow-growth group Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) filed a legal complaint arguing the property should be reserved for public use under the California Surplus Land Act.
Recently-elected Councilmember Phil Brock, who voted to cease negotiations, says the future of the property will be guided by “a community process.”
“I want to explore fresh options for this land that is owned by the people of Santa Monica. The lease term was intolerable, the project outdated and residents outraged by this project for seven years. Let’s unite behind a new project that will be guided by a community process that is in scale with the future of our beachside community. We can do better. We must do better,” Brock said.
“Let’s unite behind a new project that will be guided by a community process that is in scale with the future of our beachside community.”Councilmember Phil Brock
Joining Brock and Himmelrich in voting to stop negotiations were recently-elected councilmembers Christine Parra and Oscar de la Torre.
“Sometimes you need to take a step back to move forward. There were very compelling economic reasons to stay the course with the current developer and I appreciate the commitments made to bring us a new project but ultimately our residents deserve a breather and an opportunity to envision a better, resident-focused project on land they own,” de la Torre said.
The decision Tuesday reverses an August 6-1 vote to continue negotiations with developer Clarett West, in which the previous council decided the job, housing and revenue the project would generate outweighed the risks of pending litigation. Councilmember Gleam Davis, who voted against stopping negotiations on Tuesday, echoed these ideas in her remarks.
“My no vote reflects my belief that we could get a very good project out of the current developer and that by continuing the exclusive negotiating agreement we would be able to ask them to produce a project that would not only be economically positive for the city, but also meet the concerns of residents,” Davis said. “By ending the exclusive negotiating agreement arrangement…we are postponing the project for an indefinite period into an indefinite future which will cause us to have significant delays in terms of developing both revenue-generating portions of the project, open space, as well as potential housing.”
“we are postponing the project for an indefinite period into an indefinite future which will cause us to have significant delays in terms of developing both revenue-generating portions of the project, open space, as well as potential housing.”Councilmember Gleam Davis
Voting along with Davis to continue negotiations were councilmembers Kristin McCowan and Kevin McKeown. When reached for comment, McKeown pointed out that the developer had recently offered to pivot and pursue a housing-only project, comprised of market-rate and affordable units.
“The developer had already withdrawn the controversial Plaza project and offered to build a housing project with nearly a hundred affordable units, the permanent ice skating rink, open space, no hotel and no office — which is what the disposition of the land through the Surplus Land Act likely will yield anyway, but on a much longer timeline. Staff estimates declining that revised offer to begin negotiation through public hearings will mean a two year delay in converting empty parking lots into something of genuine value to our community, which we could have avoided if the Council had been willing to pivot as nimbly as the developer did,” McKeown said.
After the Tuesday vote, under the Surplus Land Act, the City must now make the land open space or available to public agencies and housing sponsors for low- and moderate-income housing. City Council will vote at a later date to decide which of these paths to pursue.
Councilmembers McCowan and Parra, along with developer Clarett West, were not immediately available for comment.