BY MATTHEW HALL
The forecast is grim for Typhoon restaurant but City Hall is trying to add a silver lining to the clouds hanging over the impacted employees.
Typhoon has announced its impending closure on Nov. 8 and at their Nov. 1 meeting, Council directed staff to begin negotiations with a nearby tech company to take over the space but also asked for staff to return with potential ideas to support the 25 workers that will be unemployed by next week.
The restaurant has been an airport tenant since 1990 and like every airport tenant, its lease expired in 2015. City Hall has implemented a new leasing policy at the airport to bring every tenant up to market rate rents and Tyhpoon’s owners verbally agreed to a five-year lease with tenant improvement incentives and an option to renew for a second five-year term.
According to City Staff, the current owners were in the midst of trying to sell the restaurant and when the sale fell though, they declined pursue the new lease and instead said they would vacate the property by Dec. 31.
TaskUs, an outsourcing company with offices adjacent to Typhoon, expressed interest in taking the space and staff presented an option Tuesday night to lease the company 6,193 square feet of space for $19,050.76 per month.
The item was scheduled for part of the consent calendar, usually reserved for administrative items that do not require discussion. However, Councilman McKeown asked for discussion after several speakers said Council should take action to protect the workers at Typhoon who will lose their jobs.
Francis Engler with Unite Here Local 11 union asked Council to delay signing a lease with TaskUs, ask the company to operate the space as a cafeteria that retains the workers and find a way to include the Typhoon employees in the City’s local hiring rules.
“In any case, the job of our union is to make invisible workers visible in our community so we want to do that in this case,” he said.
Typhoon employee Eli Longnecker said staff were only recently informed the restaurant would close and said the employees should have a say in the leasing policy for future tenants.
“We want to see ourselves in the future of this space because our livelihoods depend on it,” she said. “We want to see a food service space at the airport in particular. It allows us, all of whom but me are immigrants, to have jobs here in Santa Monica. Tech offices do not provide opportunities for us but food service does. This is a matter of preserving economic diversity in Santa Monica.
McKeown said the workers were unfortunate victims in the situation who were not consulted because the City had no indication the restaurant would close.
“It’s an unfortunate fact that restaurants in Santa Monica open and close all the time but most of them are not on city land and I think that’s why we have heard from people about this tonight,” he said.
He said Council should move forward with a lease for TaskUs because the space was probably too expensive for a new restaurant and the City has an obligation to generate revenue from the space. He said the lease negotiations could include a request from the City regarding TaskUs’ use of the space but the company needed the space to accommodate its existing workforce.
“We’re trying to repay the city for money the airport has sucked out of our general fund over the last decade,” he said.
City Manager Rick Cole said market rate rents vary based on the location and kind of business but the numbers don’t support a new restaurant in the space.
“We can’t pitch it so low that we’re giving the space away and frankly I think we’d have to pitch it low enough to give it away to have any confidence that in a reasonable amount of time someone is going to pioneer a location like that with a brand new restaurant concept from a standing start.”
In making a motion to authorize the City Manager to negotiate and execute a lease with TaskUs, McKeown asked staff to return with a future agenda item that would allow the city to help the Typhoon employees, possibly through inclusion in the City’s local hiring program or perhaps through city aid in their job search.