DOWNTOWN — Developer OTO can’t build their hotels at Fifth Street and Colorado Avenue unless they agree to pay workers $15.37 an hour, give $1 million for street enhancements, and adhere to stringent water usage limits, the Planning Commission said Wednesday night.
Commissioners approved, in a vote of 5 to 2, a recommendation for the Santa Monica City Council to turn down the proposed Hampton Inn & Suites and the Courtyard by Marriott hotels unless those demands are met.
The proposed six-story hotels are across the street from one another and characterized as affordable or mid-range.
Commissioners Amy Nancy Anderson and Gerda Paumgarten Newbold voted against the recommendation because they opposed the negative language being sent to council. Stated simplistically, the commissioners preferred the phrasing, “Yes, if you meet these demands,” rather than, “No, unless you meet these demands.”
“I’m not sure I see a single thing on this list of conditions that I disagree with, but I think at the heart of it this is a project, with these changes, that fits exactly what we’re looking for in Downtown,” Anderson said. “So, I can’t in good conscience say to City Council ‘deny this (development agreement).’ I think at the heart of it, this is a beneficial project to the city.”
Commissioner Richard McKinnon called OTO’s offerings “pitiful.”
“This applicant does not seem to have come to terms with the community in which they are operating,” he said.
A number of items in the development agreement, ranging from community benefits to design elements, were left undefined because planning officials and the developer could not find common ground.
“As we work on through, on every issue the applicant has not engaged,” McKinnon said. “That we have literally dozens of provisions here this evening that are unfilled in is extraordinary.”
McKinnon favored including higher wages for workers, more renewable energy, and increasing traffic reduction.
“You’ve acted as if ‘talk to the hand’ is your approach,” he said. “I have no sense what you think is acceptable or unacceptable.”
At their previous meeting, commissioners heard from the public, the developer, the architect, and city officials before deciding to postpone the vote.
During the first meeting, many organizers and members from Unite Here Local 11, a union representing hospitality workers, spoke in opposition to aspects of the development agreement. Public comment was not open at Wednesday night’s meeting but about a dozen union members showed up to watch.
Rachel Torres, research analyst with Unite Here, said the commission made the right decision and supported the “no, unless” language.
“This is sort of a psychological thing,” she said. “It’s not just about the details. It’s about are you just going to keep moving this project forward and not making any changes, and not working with the community. Or are you going to stop and say absolutely not. If there’s going to be changes, make changes, if not this is not a good project for the city.”
Mike Gallen, director of development at OTO, said they are trying to meet demands while keeping the project feasible.
“I think we need to digest what we heard tonight,” he said. “I think we’re looking forward to going to City Council. I think we heard some real comments that I think we want to evaluate and address, but ultimately the project needs to remain feasible and that’s something we’re going to be trying to balance.”
The project, with the commission’s recommendations, will go before City Council for a final vote.