CITY HALL — The Third Street Promenade is home to a diverse selection of restaurants and some of the nation’s most popular retailers.

Soon it could be home to car dealerships as well.

A five-member City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance Tuesday that would conditionally allow four electric vehicle showrooms on the Promenade, a move which concerned some officials that car sales were out of character for the popular shopping district.

If passed on second reading, the new rules would allow four 3,750 square-foot showrooms with a maximum of five cars on display. No repair services would be available at the promenade locations, and test drive routes would have to be coordinated through a city parking and traffic engineer.

The item appeared as an appeal of a Planning Commission decision in October. It was something of a procedural pariah because the City Council appealed the technical denial to itself, with City Councilmember Bob Holbrook filing six days after it was shot down on Oct. 19.

Planning Commissioner Gerda Newbold called the showroom concept “Las Vegas-ish,” and Richard McKinnon worried that it wouldn’t fit into the fabric of the promenade.

Chair Jim Ries, however, voted for the change with some hesitation because, he said, “I sense it’s imminent.”

Council members greeted the item with enthusiasm and no small amount of humor as they tried to deal with themselves both as an appellant and the deciding body.

Council members positive on the idea felt that making Santa Monica a visible home base for electric vehicle sales would be an appropriate use of the promenade’s cache as a destination shopping district.

The day of the local small business thriving in the expensive area is gone, said Councilmember Bobby Shriver, and the promenade is better suited to creating buzz for new products and technologies than for fostering independent bookstores.

“It’s a romantic thing, and great that it was there, but it’s just not true anymore,” Shriver said.

Cars, in particular, represent a pollution source that even green Santa Monica has yet to take on, said Councilmember Pam O’Connor.

“The folks at the (Air Quality Management District) pointed out that while we’ve made great strides in solving air pollution, there’s much more to be done,” O’Connor said. “Mobile sources are what we need to grapple with and deal with.”

The sole no vote in the 4-1 decision came from Councilmember Kevin McKeown, who felt that an unwarranted amount of pressure was being put on the promenade to foster the growth of the electric vehicle industry.

“I want to make very clear that the question before us is not whether we’ll have green cars sold in Santa Monica. We certainly will,” he said. “… I don’t think our Planning Commission intended to kill the electric car at all, they were just dealing with the location.”

The council created a corridor for dealerships on Lincoln Boulevard, and it would be best to keep them there, he said.

Tesla Motors, an electric vehicle company based in Palo Alto, Calif., is already prepared to pounce on the opportunity to open a high-profile showroom on the promenade.

The company got approval from the Architectural Review Board for a facade remodel and sign change at the ARB’s Nov. 7 meeting, a full month before the council was able to consider the Planning Commission appeal.

The OK was conditional on the City Council approving the use on the promenade, said Laura Beck, the city planner liaison to the ARB.

The council’s approval came one day before the California Air Resources Board proposed new “advanced clean car rules,” which intend to triple the number of electric vehicles on California’s roads by 2025 as well as incentivizing the creation of better technologies to cut down on emissions from cars.

State officials plan to do that by giving incentives to utilities and electric vehicle service programs to install missing infrastructure like charging stations, and for fleet owners to go electric or adopt cleaner fuels.

“Ultimately, we’re hoping that by 2025 and beyond we’ll have exponential growth in low emission and zero emission vehicles,” said Dave Clegern, a spokesman for the Air Resources Board.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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