The reconstruction of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel brought a standing-room only crowd and lots of heated comment to the Planning Commission last Wednesday.

1133 Ocean Ave., LLC, the owner of the iconic hotel, is a corporate subsidiary of Michael Dell’s (yes, the computer Michael Dell) business empire. It’s asking for a development agreement to “re-imagine” the venerable old lady.

Currently, the 4.5 acre property at Ocean Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard has 262,284 square feet of hotel facilities including 296 guest rooms and 160 surface parking spaces. New construction would replace all but one older structure and add an additional 287,780 square feet of new construction for a total of 550,064 square feet.

Proposed is a substantially rebuilt hotel complex with 265 guest rooms, food, beverage, meeting/banquet space, spa facilities, retail frontage along Wilshire Boulevard, a nearly 1 acre green park at Wilshire and Ocean, up to 120 condominiums and 484 on-site, subterranean parking spaces. Nobody has mentioned bicycle racks.

Existing 10 story and 12 story towers would be replaced with a new 12 story structure to house hotel amenities, guest rooms and condominiums. A second 11 story building would replace the present two floor administration building on Second Street. The Wilshire side would house retail stores, meeting rooms and banquet space.

According to a Planning Department report, “The project includes preservation and rehabilitation of the six-story 1920’s Palisades Building at the parcel’s northeast corner, and protection and preservation of the landmark, late-19th century Moreton Bay fig tree planted near the middle of the site.” Up to 40 units of affordable/workforce housing will be built across Second Street.

The architectural renderings show a rather dramatic, Spanish influenced, terra cotta and glass facade with rooftop cupolas. A 1 acre park at Ocean and Wilshire provides a clear street view of the Moreton Bay fig tree. Based on renderings, I find the project attractive and a much needed update to one of Santa Monica’s oldest and classiest hotels.

The owners of the Huntley House hotel across Second Street don’t like the project. Neither do residents of nearby condominiums at Ocean and California avenues — probably because new construction will block their views of the blue Pacific.

A public relations firm retained by Huntley owners formed “Santa Monicans against the Miramar Expansion” (SMATME) to whip up neighborhood opposition to the project. Unfortunately, so much misleading information has been disseminated by SMATME that it reminds me of the campaign garbage distributed last election by “Santa Monicans for Quality Government.”

For example, their flyer artwork falsely depicts massive, industrial-looking buildings with blank windows. They call the project, “Miramarmageddon” and claim it will “destroy Santa Monica.” “Destroy?” Really? Wow, I better get my disaster kit.

Despite the hysteria-inducing efforts, Wilmont, the area’s official neighborhood group, has enthusiastically endorsed the project.

This debate continues Feb. 22 at the Planning Commission.

More school permits?

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education is considering admitting more students who live outside the district because of a projected drop in enrollment over the next few years.

Currently, the district has 200 non-resident (permit) students. It’s contemplating adding another 100 permit students for the 2012-13 school year. The reason for the move is to bring in around $5,300 more per student from the state.

The only problem is that the state only pays for roughly half of a SMMUSD student’s education. The 2011-12 unrestricted SMMUSD budget is $111 million and another $17 million is restricted for mandated and special programs. With over 11,200 students in the district, the real cost to educate a SMMUSD student is about $10,000 — a far cry from $5,300.

The $4,700 plus difference between state support and the real cost of educating a student here is made up through parcel taxes, property/facility rentals, a half-cent sales and use tax, support from City Hall (estimated in the tens of millions of dollars) plus a whole $200,000 from the City of Malibu. That helps cover the costs of all the exceptional programs we offer our students that other districts cannot possibly afford.

Local news reports quoted school board member Jose Escarce as favoring increasing non-resident permits because the state support would more than pay for the new teachers required by the new students. Say what?

Apparently, Escarce doesn’t realize 100 more permit students would theoretically require up to a half-million dollars in additional funding from non-state sources. In other words, Santa Monica and Malibu taxpayers!

Most businesses and nonprofits experiencing declines in revenue or customers reduce overhead to stay fiscally healthy. The problem with the SMMUSD is that it isn’t run like a business. Board members like Escarce only want to spend and “hire more teachers” even though it’s fiscally irresponsible.

Has anybody thought about the thousands of City Hall’s tax exempt, affordable, multi-family apartments now here, let alone hundreds more coming down the pipeline over the next few years?

Aren’t taxpayer subsidies of hundreds of students who’ve already moved here from outside the district and now living in Santa Monica’s low and mid-income apartments enough without bringing in even more day students from West Los Angeles, Venice and elsewhere to subsidize, too?

Bill can be reached at

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