CITY HALL— Issues over labor, design, and community benefits caused planning commissioners to delay approval of two proposed hotels on Fifth Street and Colorado Avenue Wednesday night.
The proposed Courtyard by Marriott and Hampton Inn and Suites are being touted as affordable hotels by developer OTO.
Of the 21 people who spoke during the public portion of the meeting, 16 criticized the project and four favored it. Nearly every criticism focused on labor.
The commission voted to continue discussing the project at the next Planning Commission meeting on Oct. 16. If the development agreement changes during that time, the commission will have to hear public comment again.
Members of Unite Here Local 11, a hospitality workers union, filled the chamber and voiced their opposition to the development agreement.
Union members stood as Francis Engler, Westside director of Unite Here Local 11, asked the commission to vote to delay the project.
“When you consider the community benefits that OTO promises, in the end you have to decide if you trust them to deliver on what they promise,” Engler said. “Our union has been trying to work with OTO for more than a year to ensure community benefits like local hiring, living wage, and transportation for workers, and the problem that we have is that each time we hear a promise on one of these subjects, when you look at the fine print … , what’s on paper is actually less than what’s promised.”
OTO sent Unite Here a proposed neutrality agreement, but Unite Here did not consent, according to OTO Director of Development Mike Gallen.
“We think that the local hiring program that’s been provided is probably the most robust program to come across in Santa Monica,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of concern about ‘it’s not good enough. It’s not good enough.’ It’s built upon what was approved last year at the 710 Wilshire [proposed hotel]. If they had concerns then, it’s been about a year to hear those comments.”
Currently, the developers have allocated $100,000 to the Los Angeles Hospitality Training Academy as a community benefit. Engler said the money does not solve the hiring problem.
“You’ve heard promises on local hiring,” he said. “What is in the agreement right now is not enforceable on local hiring. And no amount of money to the (academy) will fix that if you do not have enforceable local hiring language.”
Engler told the commission he was not asking them to vote on a question of unionization.
Commissioners asked the developer and union leaders about the labor issue and then moved on to questions of design.
The proposed hotels are both six stories tall. The Hampton Inn design has 143 rooms. The Marriott has 136 and is simpler architecturally.
“It is more the decorated box, but I call it the jewel box,” said architect Gwynne Pugh, a former planning commissioner.
Commissioners asked the developers about the placement of outdoor seating, the possibility of moving the sundries market, and the aesthetics of an exterior wall before Commissioner Jason Parry suggested that they continue the discussion on Oct. 16.
Some of the community benefits proposed by the developer include contributions to historic preservation, the Hospitality and Training Academy, and affordable housing totaling close to $900,000.