CITY HALL — Two moderately priced hotels were approved for Downtown at a warm and fuzzy City Council meeting Tuesday night.
The six-story hotels, slated for the corner of Colorado Boulevard and Fifth Street, went through numerous iterations at the Planning Commission level but were passed unanimously and quickly by council.
Last week, hospitality union Unite Here Local 11 agreed to back the 136-room Marriott and 143-room Hampton Inn after developer OTO essentially guaranteed that they would be union hotels.
The only disagreement at that point, whether workers would receive union-supported $15.37 per hour or planning staff-supported $14.08 an hour, was resolved early in the council meeting when OTO agreed to the higher wage.
“On the whole, I just want to say thank you,” Councilmember Kevin McKeown said. “It’s so nice to have a hearing on a development agreement where we finally, before we had to argue it out at the council, came to an agreement ahead of time and where all the parties involved acted like grown-ups. It’s really nice.”
The mood in the council chamber was giddy with mostly positive public comment and laughter coming from the audience, a stark contrast to the Planning Commission meetings —before the union agreement was reached — when audience members grumbled and public comment was overwhelmingly negative.
“It’s rare that we have a hearing where there’s such enthusiasm, and pretty close to unanimous enthusiasm, and it makes our job quite a bit easier,” said Councilmember Gleam Davis.
Both McKeown and Councilmember Tony Vazquez lauded the developers for agreeing to build both hotels without claiming that they also need to build condominiums to finance the project, a recent trend.
Last month, the Planning Commission told council to vote against the project unless the developers agreed to a series of conditions. Between the union agreement and some changes to staff recommendations, most of the conditions were met.
One exception was the total community benefits, to which planning commissioners wanted developers to contribute $1.7 million, including $1 million to the Colorado Esplanade, a promenade meant to connect the Exposition Light Rail station to Ocean Avenue. Council ended up accepting the planning staff’s recommendation of $1.3 million, including $600,000 toward the esplanade.
The projects still have to go before the Architectural Review Board, which has been told to pay close attention to proposed columns near the entrance of the Marriott. The columns could make the public walkway hard to navigate according to planning officials.
“We want to start as soon as possible, ideally in the spring of 2014 after permits are in hand,” said Mike Gallen, director of development at OTO. “That would allow us to open in the spring of 2016, to coincide with the Expo Light Rail and Colorado Esplanade completion.”
An ordinance that gives more spending power to city staff passed with ease on Tuesday night.
City Hall can now spend $10,000 without soliciting competitive bids, which doubles the previous total of $5,000. In 2001, convenience purchases, or those purchases exempt from the competitive bidding process, were capped at $1,000.
Culver City, which is less than half the size of Santa Monica, allows purchases under $2,500 to be approved without a competitive bidding process.
The cap for formal bidding procedures, which was previously $100,000, was raised to $175,000, in line with the state’s higher limit for general law cities. Santa Monica is a charter city, but several other charter cities have made similar increases, city officials said.
For purchases between $10,000 and $175,000, city officials are required to solicit three or more bids. Any purchases over $175,000 require council approval and must be advertised in the local newspapers. Orders under $175,000 are still advertised on City Hall’s website.
Another change allows the city manager to hire consultants if they are paid below $80,000 without council approval. Previously, the cap was $70,000.
The ordinance passed unanimously without any council remarks. No one from the public requested to speak about the ordinance.