Despite the Downtown security proposal taking the spotlight in last week’s City Council meeting, several additional key motions were also approved.
According to Andrew Thomas, CEO of Downtown Santa Monica Inc (DTSM), the percentage of vacancies on the Promenade is approximately 28 percent. “We’re just finishing up a study on it now,” Thomas said, adding, “We believe that extends Downtown-wide. It’s down slightly [compared to last year] but we’re still way down from where we were in January of 2020.
Jennifer Taylor, Economic Development Manager for the City of Santa Monica, added, “We have many businesses and many properties that are being leased and opening, so vacancies are definitely dropping, but they’re noticeable because some have large shop frontage.
“We have a lot of interesting popups right now too, from Barbie to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. So combined, those are all really helping to create destinations and experiences, which then are helping to support our brick and mortar businesses, our restaurants and retailers, and attract new ones.”
Councilmember Caroline Torosis inquired as to whether any corporate landlords had reached out to the city regarding potentially sub-dividing some of the larger leases to offer an incentive to different types of business and potential tenants to come to the Promenade.
“We’re in ongoing talks with a number of property owners, potential perspective businesses and commercial brokers about the size of spaces that people need,” Taylor said, adding, “And I think there is definitely interest, particularly if there was city support besides just the zoning and permitting, like grants, revolving loan funds.
“We’ve also talked about working with property owners to create demonstration pop-up spaces so that they’re plug-and-play ready to go and opposed to moving to different sites and needing whole new building permits.”
Councilmember Phil Brock asked about getting businesses opened faster. “I still hear some of the same issues that I’ve heard for the last couple of years. And how do we get businesses permitted faster? How do we get their contracts signed? How do we get their inspections done?
“I heard twice today from a cool store that’s trying to open on the Promenade, they just want their inspections, they’re eager to open. How do we grease the wheel to get some of them open?”
David Martin, Community Development Director, responded, “It’s a combination of many things. Eliminating a CUP [Conditional Use Permit] process takes six months off the timeframe … We were down several inspectors, and we’ve hired all but one position, so once that person’s onboard, we’ll be up to full staff in terms of inspectors. We’ll be able to get much closer to that next day inspection that we’ve enjoyed for many years and haven’t had in the last couple years.”
Martin added, “For the first time since the pandemic, our counter is open to walk-ins … and some things can be done over the counter, so it makes it much easier to pull those permits.”
Taylor added that boba tea outlet Odd One Out is set to move into the empty 1200 block kiosk on the Third Street Promenade. “We don’t have the funding to tear down the kiosk now and there’s actually really strong demand to activate the kiosks,” she said.
Following some additional discussion and debate regarding the Covered 6 proposal, council rolled everything into one motion and voted unanimously 7-0 to approve: the DTSM Fiscal Year 2023-24 Budget and Work Plan; extend the the allowance of community events held at Lot 27 (452 Arizona Ave) for another two years and to temporarily activate the city-owned lot at 1318 4th Street for community events; the addition of operating a Promenade vending cart program for four additional years; the activation of the Parking Structure 6 (1431 2nd St) rooftop space as an outdoor movie theater; to adopt a finding of categorical exemption pursuant to Section 15301 of the California Environmental Quality Act guidelines.