Contradictory Development Agreements Made By Council
By Michael Davis
The Santa Monica City Council made contradictory decisions this week. In one moment, the council set in motion development agreements for two new hotels in Downtown Santa Monica. But earlier in the meeting, the council members complained that development agreements were too weak, and that the city was not getting enough in return for allowing developers to build beyond what city law allows.
The proposed hotels are located at the intersection of Fifth Street and Colorado Avenue. This would place them near the Expo Light Rail Station, which is supposed to open in a few years as one end of the rail line that will connect downtown Los Angeles with downtown Santa Monica.
The proposed hotels are a Courtyard Marriot and a Hampton Inn & Suites. They would have a combined 270 rooms. The hotels will be larger than what would normally be allowed by city law, so the developers must create some “community benefits” to get the right to construct the extra building. One thing the council is looking for are “living wages” for the hotel workers.
How a living wage for hotel workers, most of whom do not live in Santa Monica, is a community benefit is up to interpretation. It might be good for “the betterment” of the world, but it is of little direct value to the people of Santa Monica. Instead, the council should probably be asking for such things as parks, improved traffic plans and other ways to increase parking and/or expand public transportation options.
Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis said of the proposed projects, “Having mid-range hotels so close to the Expo Station will be an excellent fit for Santa Monica.”
Also during the meeting, the council spoke about development agreements in general. Development Agreements, or DAs, have been handed out in the past 30 years to developers more as wink-wink deals. The community has usually gotten nothing in return for the added traffic, reduced open space and other problems that come with large developments. Most of the DAs have been with condo developers who agreed to create “affordable units.” They never actually come through on their end of the offer, but the city has failed to punish most of them or even bother to notice when the deals weren’t met.
Council members on Tuesday said that not only do they want DAs to be enforced, they also want good things coming from the developers that are actual benefits, not just promises for stuff that the developers should be doing anyhow.
Paul Silvern, an attorney who represents most of the developers in town, warned the council should not get too greedy. He compared the DAs to Christmas trees. He said that if you put too many ornaments (benefits) on the tree, it will bend and break, making the development impossible.
Councilman Bobby Shriver responded, “No one, since I’ve been here, has been dressing up a Christmas tree. We’ve been clawing to get items.”
The council asked city staff to come back at a future meeting with new proposed rules outlining how development agreements can be better used to benefit the people of Santa Monica. Whether anything will come of this is unknown. Many political observers are not optimistic the people will win in the end.
Meanwhile, another proposed development agreement on the horizon, for the Fairmont Miramar expansion, will be attracting a large crowd when it goes before the City Council later this month for a hearing (it will just be a hearing for comments, not a vote of the council). This is the project that the opponents have been spreading lots of fear on, including sending out a pamphlet featuring a meteor containing the hotel headed toward Santa Monica.
Opponents of the project had asked that the meeting on April 24 be moved to a larger venue than City Hall. Santa Monica officials have denied the request. This probably means the opponents will bring as large a crowd as possible to show their strength. Expect some chaos.