Santa Monica City Hall (File photo)

With the prohibition on fast food restaurants in the Third Street Promenade set to expire in November, Santa Monica’s Planning Commission has asked Council to permanently ban fast food restaurants in the Promenade but commissioners hope to revisit the ordinance, which was described as elitist, by next summer.

In November 2018, in order to ensure that the Promenade maintained its authentic characteristics, City Council adopted an urgency Interim Zoning Ordinance to prevent the proliferation of fast food restaurants on the Promenade. The ordinance defined a fast-food restaurant as a place where orders are taken at a walk-up window, counter or machine; payment is completed prior to food consumption; and food is served with disposable, one-time, or limited-use wrapping, containers, or utensils; and also banned restaurants and cafes that have more than 100 domestic locations.

“Two weeks ago, the Planning Commission adopted a resolution of intention to consider these amendments, and the emergency IZO is set to expire on November 26 of 2020 with no further extensions possible,” Principal Planner Tony Kim said during last week’s Planning Commission meeting, when he detailed how the recently passed amendments would make the prohibition on fast food uses on the Promenade permanent.

Staff believes the proposed amendments would help promote a unique and diverse promenade experience that promotes locally-based, independent restaurants, according to Kim. However, Commissioner Leslie Lambert disagreed.

“I absolutely hate this. I think it is elitist and (shows) the Promenade is too special and we’re too special to have a Taco Bell on the Promenade. I am so offended by this I can barely even talk about it,” Lambert said. “And what it does is limit the eating options to people who can afford the sushi restaurants on the Promenade. And we have lots of tourists and residents who can’t afford those restaurants.”

Lambert added she doesn’t believe a ban on fast-food restaurants will lower rents and allow small businesses to move in.

“It’s absolutely delusional,” she said. “I mean, Downtown Santa Monica is probably one of the most costly real estate markets in West L.A. and it’s going to stay that way with or without fast-food.”

Lambert liked Commissioner Raskin’s proposal, which sought to allow some discretion in what businesses would be accepted because Santa Monica could have a diversity of options available downtown.

Planning Commission Chair Shawn Landres said he shared the concerns of equity — and after some back-and-forth, commissioners agreed there may be better and more equitable ways to accomplish the city’s goals.

But with the emergency interim ordinance set to expire in less than a month, Mario Fonda-Bonardi motioned for the group to stay the course with staff’s recommendation and revisit the matter in six months with Downtown Santa Monica Inc., officials when there is a little more clarity about the consequences that COVID has had on local businesses. “I think this is a sufficient and not necessarily harmful thing to do at this time,” Fonda-Bonardi said.

Lambert agreed to support the motion as long as there is a commitment from commissioners to come back six months and discuss Raskin’s CUP proposal in more detail.

“A lot can happen over the next six months in the middle of an economically volatile situation,” Landres said as he detailed his reasons for supporting the motion. “I think we need to put all of those (options) on the table, and then make the right recommendation based on full-throated input from DTSM and other stakeholders in the area, so that’s why I’ll be supporting the substitute motion.”

Commissioners would vote 4-2 to take staff’s recommendation to City Council during a meeting in Late December. Commissioner Ellis Raskin and Jim Ries voted no because they believed it best to immediately address the matter.

“For the next six months, restaurants are not going to be operating as business-as-usual,” Raskin said. “And I think that at this time, we should err on the side of providing more flexibility for business rather than less.”

Landres said, “I’m supporting the substitute motion precisely for the first half of what Commissioner Raskin just said, which is that I think we need to be providing certainty.”