CITY HALL — After more than two years in the works, City Council will decide on the future of two affordable hotels proposed for the corner of Fifth Street and Colorado Avenue at their meeting on Tuesday.
Last month, the Planning Commission recommended that council vote against approving the development agreement for the six-story hotels unless the developers, OTO, agree to, among other things, increased community benefit contributions, higher wages for workers, and greener energy standards.
The hotels, a 136-room Marriott and a 143-room Hampton Inn, would generate $2.74 million annually in tax dollars for City Hall’s general fund, city officials said.
Last week, the managing director of the American Film Market, the world’s largest film market, expressed frustration over the lack of affordable hotel rooms in the city. He specifically mentioned the uncertainty surrounding the proposed hotels.
“We use about half the hotel rooms in Santa Monica. And about half of our traveling participants don’t stay in Santa Monica,” Jonathan Wolf told the Daily Press. “It’s not for lack of capacity. It’s simply the price-points.”
Members of Unite Here Local 11, a hospitality workers union, have actively attended Planning Commission meetings as the hotel proposals have progressed.
They have asked for higher wages and specific local hiring language in the development agreement.
The Planning Commission has asked the developers to establish a goal that 40 percent of employees are hired locally from Santa Monica. City officials note that this goal is non-binding, and no penalty would result if the goal were not reached.
The commission also proposed a living wage of $15.37 an hour, not including health benefits. Despite the commission’s recommendation, planning officials wanted a wage of $14.08, which, they say, is consistent with City Hall’s Living Wage Ordinance and is higher than wages approved for previous Downtown hotels. The developer has agreed to the planning officials’ recommendation.
Commissioners want the developers to pay $1.75 million in community benefit contributions, including $1 million to the Colorado Esplanade, a transit mall planned for the area. Planning officials maintain that a total contribution of $1.3 million would be appropriate given the projects’ benefits and the living wage guarantee. The developer has agreed to the planning officials’ proposed contribution.
Commissioners supported an initial recommendation that a set of columns proposed near the entrance of the Marriott should be moved to keep the walkway open. The developer has consistently rejected the notion, and is currently proposing that the columns be set back closer to the building and out of the walkway. Planning officials say that this improves the walkway, which is near the street corner, but they remain concerned about the placement. They are recommending that the Architectural Review Board pay close attention to the columns in its final review.
Commissioners proposed doubling the fines, to $4 per square foot, if the hotels fail to be certified as LEED Gold, a sustainable energy rating system, which city planners agree is appropriate.