The redevelopment of the Fairmont-Miramar hotel is on the agenda for tomorrow’s City Council meeting. A “standing room only” crowd generated plenty of heated comment at a Feb. 8 Planning Commission meeting. Expect a repeat of that action.
Fairmont-Miramar owner 1133 Ocean Avenue, LLC (a subsidiary of Michael Dell’s business empire) is requesting a development agreement to rebuild most of the hotel.
The 4.5 acre hotel property, bounded by Ocean Avenue, Wilshire Boulevard, California Avenue and Second Street, consists of 262,284 square feet of hotel facilities including the 10-floor Ocean Tower building. Currently, there’s 296 guest rooms, cafes, shops, meeting rooms and other public areas plus 160 parking spaces.
The development agreement calls for replacing everything except for the historic six-floor Palisades Building at Second and California and the landmark Moreton Bay fig tree in the center of the property.
The result will be 550,000 square feet of new hotel space with 265 guest rooms, hotel amenities, retail space along Wilshire, 484 underground parking spaces and 120 market rate condominiums. A new, one acre park at the corner of Ocean Avenue and Wilshire will provide a clear view of the Moreton Bay fig tree.
Two proposed towers — one 12 stories and the other 11 stories — have generated the most heated opposition from neighbors, including the owners of the Huntley House hotel directly across Second Street who claim their views will be obstructed.
While view may be a concern, I’ve heard from multiple sources that Huntley House owners are most unhappy about the 40 units of low-income and workforce housing slated for the parking lot next door that’s also part of the development agreement.
While the size of the renovation is an issue for detractors, there’s been a 10-floor structure on the property for years. In addition to the 17-story Huntley House, there’s a 21-story office tower across Wilshire and a nine-floor office building at Wilshire and Third Street. To me, the additional development is no big deal.
The argument of protected views is specious because many complaining neighbors reside in site-adjacent condo buildings between four- and 14-stories tall that also block views.
Fairmont-Miramar opponents say there will be an increase in traffic and more gridlock on the surrounding streets. This too, is a hollow argument.
What is much more likely to cause congestion and gridlock is Neal Payton’s inane proposal to remove traffic lanes and narrow Wilshire Boulevard from Fourth Street to Ocean Avenue for wider sidewalks, greenscapes, bicycle and pedestrian right-of-ways. Payton is a principal in the high-priced, outside design firm that’s consulting on the new Downtown Specific Plan — which I’ll have a lot more to say about in a future column
Renderings of the new Fairmont-Miramar show a striking facade — a little unusual in Santa Monica, the home of bland, pseudo-industrial architecture.
The other controversial issue is community benefits as if the project itself is not a community benefit. The hotel is already unionized with a current contract so discussion of hotel worker “living” wages is off the table.
However, this is a great opportunity for the City Council to consider real community benefits including traffic and signal upgrades for the surrounding area, sponsorship of cultural and educational programs like AYSO soccer and Little League.
There’s scholarships for our public school system or improvements to the Santa Monica Pier. And, how about requiring that retail store and coffee shop prices in the new hotel match the prevailing prices in the Downtown area?
The Daily Press reported last week that the community college chancellor’s office has been informed by the state Attorney General’s office that a two-tiered tuition for Santa Monica College classes is not allowed under the state education code.
I raised the question of legality in last Monday’s column after SMC’s trustees approved providing a limited number of summer session courses at $180 (instead of the subsidized cost of $46) per unit on March 6.
According to news reports, 17 days later, former Santa Monica City Attorney and SMC Counsel Robert Meyers sent a 57 page brief to the general counsel in the chancellor’s office explaining why he and administrators thought the pricier classes were legal. Inexplicably, there’s been no “official” response from the state to Myers’ argument.
Not knowing definitively the legal status of the higher priced classes before approving them was mistake number one. Number two: because the plan triggered sizable demonstrations and days of campus unrest, it appears that trustees and administrators underestimated opposition to the plan, although I still think the proposal could have helped hundreds of students who were willing to pay extra for the classes they wanted.
The third mistake was failing to deliver persuasive messaging explaining why the plan was a benefit to students of all economic backgrounds. Buckling under to mob rule and pulling the classes was mistake number four. Talk about screw ups!
That’s what happens when those in charge — including trustees — are there because they’re all Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights cronies. In fact, SMC is famous for mutual political back scratching and being a great resource for politically connected SMRRs looking for work — including Myers who is a SMRR favorite and whose wife is a SMC administrator.
In the meantime, money is wasted and bad decisions are made. Students and community college district taxpayers both lose. It’s a major embarrassment on every level.
Bill can be reached at email@example.com.