Santa Monica Plaza Project Moves Forward
Himmelrich called the current draft plan "illegal" and posing "great risk to the City." But she was the lone dissenter.
August 6, 2020
In a blow to zero-growth extremists and to the benefit of a community suffering in a coronavirus-created economic downturn, the Santa Monica City Council voted 6-1 on Tuesday for the City to renew negotiations with a developer about building a mixed-use project on municipal-owned land in the downtown.
This does not mean that the development that will bring much-needed revenue to City government and affordable housing to the people is a done deal, it just means the council didn't want to restart negotiations with a new group.
"We're going to get a substantially better project by moving ahead now," said Mayor Pro Tem Terry O'Day. He said to end discussion with the developer, a joint venture of Clarett West Development LLC and DLJ Real Estate Capital Partners, would stiff them with the cost they had already incurred during the past several years of negotiations, serving as a warning for future parties wanting to build on City property.
"It's a terrible way to act as a partner and would be opposite what I understand our community values to be," O'Day said.
The lone dissenter was Sue Himmelrich. She wanted a proposal request sent out for new potential partners who she said would come up with a better plan.
"I think we are taking the easy way and not getting the project we could get if we did ask other people to look at it," said Himmelrich, who called the current draft plan "illegal" and posing "great risk to the City."
This idea of anything illegal being done is a fringe theory first raised by the zero-growth group Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City, or SMCLC. It claimed earlier this year that the negotiation violated an obscure state law, so talks ended while City officials investigated the matter. They concluded the law had not been violated, and the council's decision on Tuesday means talks are back on.
The developer has agreed to cover the City if any lawsuit comes. The developer is willing to do that because any potential lawsuit would be bogus, despite SMCLC issuing a threatening statement claiming it hired a "prominent" law firm.
Tentative plans for the property on Arizona Avenue off 4th and 5th streets include a hotel, office space, housing (a lot of it affordable), open space, and other helpful features to take the area up a notch. The developer has already agreed to staffing the hotel with union employees, a feature that led to several union members and staff speaking in favor of the project to the council. Councilmember Gleam Davis said she liked this feature.
"Good-paying union jobs are as crucial an important social justice component as affordable housing, and this is a project that provides both," Davis said.
Mayor Kevin McKeown added, "To drop this project and start all over would be the mistake of mistakes we could make because that would virtually guarantee [no benefits from the City property]."
The council voted 7-0 to place a real estate tax on the ballot. If approved, the measure would raise the tax rate on real estate sales over $5 million from .3 percent to .6 percent. City officials said it could annually raise up to $3 million and possibly as much as $5.5 million if a good economy ever comes again.
Intriguing moves are being made as residents pull papers for the various November races. Potential candidates have until Aug. 7 to return those papers to make their runs official. This week, School Board member Oscar de la Torre pulled papers for both City Council races (one for four seats and the other for one). If he intends to run, he will have to choose one. A person cannot run in both races. De la Torre's school board seat that he has held since 2002 is not up for renewal until 2022.
All five council incumbents up for re-election have pulled papers. O'Day, Davis, Ted Winterer, and Ana Jara are running in a four-seat race. Kristin McCowan, who was appointed to the council last month, is running for just her seat.