Visitors and locals walk down the Third Street Promenade on Tuesday afternoon.The City Council this week has been debating whether or not to allow significantly greater heights and densities for Downtown and the neighborhood surrounding Bergamot Station.

1) Change the FAR (floor area ratio) calculations in the Bergamot area to allow developers to include “new streets” such as the extension of Nebraska and Pennsylvania avenues, resulting in denser projects. For the upcoming Hines project, this would allow Hines an extra 200,000 square feet more than current zoning allows.

2) Determine what Downtown heights and densities should be studied for environmental review. Developers of three projects on Ocean Avenue are proposing hotel/condo towers of 195 to 320 feet.

To get a glimpse of how the council will vote, all one has to do is follow the money. Consider the role of money in politics. In local elections there are two types of campaign contributions: to candidates with a cap of $325 per donor; and to independent expenditure committees, with no dollar caps. It’s an easy bet on which raised the most money.

Our last three elections spawned developer-funded committees with artfully deceptive names aimed at electing and influencing council members who would vote for their projects.

In 2012, Santa Monicans for a Responsible Future (SMURF) spent $406,000 to elect Gleam Davis, Shari Davis, Terry O’Day and Ted Winterer, and three of the four won a seat.

In 2010, Santa Monicans for Quality Government (SMQG) spent $445,000 on deceptive mailers masquerading as ones from well-respected groups in support of Davis, Bob Holbrook, O’Day, and Pam O’Connor, all of whom were victorious.

In 2008, Save Our City — No on Measure T spent $752,000, raised by a developer-funded PAC to narrowly defeat Prop. T, a 2008 residents’ initiative to limit commercial growth in Santa Monica or require voter approval for huge projects like we’re seeing now. Virtually every developer who contributed is now lining up with projects that egregiously violate existing zoning standards.

 

What’s at stake?

 

Developers will reap profits of hundreds of millions of dollars from additional hotel rooms, condo sales, apartment rents, and commercial leases if their buildings are allowed additional height and density over current limits. Santa Monica’s character will greatly change, moving the focus to tall buildings, not the beach and open sky views that make this place unique.

Here is a sampling of the value of projects proposed for Downtown and Bergamot, paired with political contributions:

 

Bergamot Area

 

• Hines, a Texas developer of the huge Bergamot Transit Village project on the former Papermate site, will gross revenues of $283 million over 10 years if its project for 498 apartments, 400,000 square feet of office and 30,000 square feet of retail is approved. Hines contributed $130,000 to SMURF and SMQG and $45,000 to Save our City in 2008. Hines executives also collectively retired Councilmember O’Connor’s 2006 campaign debt following her re-election.

• Roberts Companies would gross $175 million in revenue over 10 years if its project for 170 apartments and 300,000 square feet of commercial space is approved. Roberts contributed $25,000 in the 2012 elections and $20,000 to Save Our City in 2008.

 

Downtown Area

 

• NMS, the biggest apartment developer in town, has 854 units in 10 projects with gross revenues of $214 million over 10 years if approved. NMS contributed $120,000 to SMQG and SMURF.

• Michael Dell’s Miramar Hotel plans a 21-story project to redevelop 182 rooms and add 120 condos, conference, spa and retail amenities. If approved, Dell would gross revenues of approximately $931 million over 10 years. Dell contributed $100,000 to SMURF and $25,872 to Save Our City.

• Worthe Real Estate Group, owner of 101 Ocean Ave., plans a new 22-story hotel/condo tower designed by Frank Gehry. Gross 10-year revenues are estimated at $372 million. Worthe contributed $100,500 to Save Our City.

We disclose these large developer campaign contributions because they dwarf individual contributions and enable access and influence of our City Council on decisions involving their projects. Key developers with current projects account for almost 50 percent of total PAC spending on Santa Monica elections. The other half consists of developers and those who work with them in Santa Monica real estate.

As residents, armed with this information we can insist that these decisions be based on what’s best for Santa Monica, not what’s most profitable for developers.

Note: The consultant reports submitted by PFK were used as a basis for the Gehry and Miramar projects for room rates of $600/night at 80 percent occupancy and condo sales of $4 million. News reports are the source of $300/night for Wyndam and Mariott hotels with same occupancy and condo prices. The average one-bedroom apartment rent of $1,500 is taken from the 2013-31 Santa Monica Draft Housing Element. The Downtown and Bergamot commercial space average rents of $40 per square foot are from the website cityfeet/santamonica/commercial rents. The campaign disclosure information is taken from the filings on the City Clerk’s website.

 

 

Mary Marlow and Elizabeth Vandenburgh are with The Santa Monica Transparency Group, which tracks developer contributions to elect council members to keep city government actions open and accountable to citizens.

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