The new City Council has been sworn in. Ted Winterer and Tony Vazquez joined Terry O’Day and Gleam Davis who were just re-elected. Kevin McKeown, Bob Holbrook and Pam O’Connor are holdovers.
The new council’s first order of business was to decide who will be mayor. I hoped they would appoint McKeown who’s been on council for 14 years and has never had the honor. Didn’t happen. It went to Pam O’Connor, an 18-year council veteran who’s been mayor three previous times.
Although a number of votes were taken, in the end Holbrook, Vazquez, O’Day and O’Connor voted “Team Pam” and Winterer, Davis and McKeown voted “Team Kevin.” Terry O’Day was named mayor pro tem.
I’m not a fan of O’Connor’s governance and her appointment wasn’t the only poor decision the council made Tuesday night.
Take an agenda item concerning new cinemas at 1320 Fourth St. — now Parking Structure No. 3 and slated for demolition. City Hall geniuses decided four years ago the city-owned site would be ideal for a movie theater multiplex so they requested proposals for new cinemas at the location.
The council was concerned that adding too many theater seats Downtown would aggravate already serious traffic and parking problems.
With only two bidders submitting proposals for 2,000-plus seat multiplexes, the council then mandated that the exhibitor selected to build and operate the new cinemas would somehow have to reduce the total number of Downtown theater seats by roughly 1,000 to mitigate traffic issues.
That meant the winning bidder would have to be willing and able to remove seats in existing cinemas to achieve a net gain of around 1,000 new seats. Unfortunately, this requirement eliminated the other bidder, ArchLight Cinemas, from the selection process.
This left local developer Metropolitan Pacific Capital, Inc. in partnership with AMC Theaters. Because AMC then operated two Downtown complexes with 11 auditoriums, it received City Hall’s nod. AMC quickly announced it would close its Loews Broadway four-plex (with 1.049 seats) when its 12-plex (with 2,167 projected seats) was completed, thus meeting the reduced net new seat requirement.
One big problem: AMC’s lease on its four-plex requires it to stay open and operating. And, if AMC were to not renew its lease or be evicted, the landlord could find another operator and keep the Loews Broadway open “under new management.” Nevertheless, City Hall pressed on with AMC.
This May, AMC with $1.9 billion in junk bond debt was purchased by the Dalian Wanda Group, a privately owned Chinese conglomerate for $2.6 billion. Earlier this month, Wanda (AMC) pulled out of its deal with City Hall because it claimed the proposed 12-plex wouldn’t generate enough revenue to justify its construction.
Keep in mind, even with AMC’s virtual monopoly with (now) three existing Downtown multiplexes and ability to charge higher prices, they still claimed the proposed project’s economics were unfavorable.
Tuesday, the City Council approved Director of Housing and Economic Development Andy Agle’s permission to find a replacement for AMC. However, it remains to be seen if Agle can find another exhibitor to make the project “pencil out” financially.
Forget about the long laundry list of screw-ups and bad decision making. It gets worse. Why is City Hall backing a cinema complex that would shoehorn 10 or 12 movie auditoriums into a cramped site when there’s a huge parcel City Hall owns and wants to develop directly across Fourth Street?
This land, bounded by Fourth, Fifth Street and Arizona Avenue is ideal for a 10 or 12 auditorium multiplex. It has much more space, would permit a less cramped auditorium configuration and could accommodate underground parking for hundreds of cars.
By creating an exciting, new Downtown development with an arts and entertainment theme, for example, movie patrons (especially at night) could share parking with the daytime office, restaurant and retail workers.
With freeway traffic exiting at Fifth Street to access the site and using Fourth Street back to the freeway on-ramp, traffic in and out would flow smoother and have less negative impacts, too.
Then, City Hall would be wise to find another developer to build a four or five floor mixed use complex with housing and retail use with subterranean resident parking where Structure No. 3 is now.
To me, it all makes much more sense from an urban planning point of view. So, I e-mailed my thoughts to a couple of council members prior to Tuesday’s meeting. When it came up, staff responded that it would mean starting the entire process from scratch after three years of work.
But, that’s exactly what City Hall should do because this cinema project has been ill-conceived and badly executed from the get-go. Nevertheless, the council ruled unanimously for Agle and the opportunity to “do it right” this time, has been lost.
I predict this will continue to be one huge botch job because bad planning rules in Santa Monica.
Not all the news was bad, however. The council took an unusual step by rescinding their Nov. 27 approval of a development agreement for the East Village, a mega-mixed-use project proposed for the present Village Trailer Park site at 2930 Colorado Ave. The vote doesn’t kill East Village, rather it just reopens negotiations with developer Marc Luzzatto.
The main issue is the amount of “affordable” housing at the project, which some deem inadequate. By the way, the vote to re-open negotiations with Luzzatto was Winterer, McKeown, Davis and Vazquez “for.” O’Connor, Holbrook and O’Day opposed reopening negotiations and voted for the developer, as usual.
Bill can be reached at email@example.com.