After five hours of heated City Council consideration, the Shore Hotel was granted almost everything it came to the table for — permission to add 14 micro hotel rooms, a cafe with beer and wine service, a restaurant with alcohol and entertainment, and a massage service.
The only request refused in the Dec. 7 meeting, was full alcohol service in the newly approved 2nd Street ground floor cafe space, per an amendment made by Councilmember Phil Brock who said there are too many hard alcohol outlets in the area.
The Downtown Community Plan text amendment and Conditional Use Permit granted for the construction of a micro-hotel helps bring to a close a decade long controversy over a requirement that the Shore Hotel provides affordable rooms. The other amenities are unrelated add-ons that the managers sought to improve the hotel.
Much of Council’s discussion centered around discussing the Shore Hotel managers as good or bad actors and whether they should be granted the additional amenities when the key issue on the table was a mandate to improve affordability.
The Shore Hotel was originally approved by the city and Coastal Commission as a low-cost hotel in 2008 as it replaced two affordable hotels. The owners let their Coastal Commission permit for the affordable hotel expire and built a luxury hotel that resulted in a $15.5 million fine by the Coastal Commission — the largest in the agency’s history — and a requirement to provide rooms at lower rates.
In the Coastal Commission settlement, the Shore Hotel was granted an after the fact CDP on the condition that they provide 72-moderate cost rooms, including a 14-room 34-bed micro-hotel and a youth-lodging program.
While submitting permit applications to construct the micro-hotel, the Shore Hotel also chose to submit applications for additional uses including a cafe, restaurant and massage service. In July, Planning Commission approved the micro-hotel permit but denied the additional amenities citing the past actions of the hotel owners and saying the amenities would further solidify its luxury classification.
The Shore Hotel appealed this decision to City Council, which in a 4-3 vote approved the additional amenities and the micro-hotel. Councilmembers Phil Brock, Lana Negrete, Oscar de la Torre and Christine Parra voted in favor, while Councilmembers Kristin McCowan, Gleam Davis and Mayor Sue Himmelrich voted against.
“They will use the presence of these amenities to raise the rates on the unrestricted rooms, which does not improve coastal access in any way, shape or form,” said Davis. “So for me, I find that the micro rooms are fine and consistent with our desire to have affordable lodging and increase accessibility to the Coast. I don’t see how having a restaurant or cafe or massage services available on site in any way increases affordability.”
Negrete was a staunch proponent of allowing the amenities and drew on her experiences as a local business owner to make a case for supporting businesses.
“Why do we not want this hotel to be successful?” said Negrete. “We talk about affordability, but as a business owner, it’s not affordable for business owners to be in business in Santa Monica either. So how can… a business owner be affordable to their customer, if it’s not affordable for them to do business?”
Negrete said that the additional amenities could increase access to the hotel as people who may not be able to afford a room can enjoy the facilities by coming to dine at the restaurant or cafe.
Council also approved a text amendment to the Downtown Community Plan in order to accommodate the micro-hotel, which exempts hotel uses in an established building from the 11 foot minimum ground floor height requirement. Himmelrich was the sole dissenting vote and opposed the amendment on the philosophical ground that municipal code should be changed for policy reasons and not specific projects.