Santa Monica Lookout
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Activists Take Sides in Downtown Development Proposal

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and MarkHarding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors BureauWhen one lives in a city as breathtakingly beautiful and unique as Santa Monica, inevitably that city will be shared with visitors.

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

June 10, 2014 --Significantly different advice has come to the City Council this week from two groups interested in the future of a 2.5-acre section of Downtown Santa Monica.

Hotel workers have advised the council to endorse a proposed 148-foot-high multi-use project known as The Plaza at Santa Monica, while a slow-growth advocacy group says a park should be developed on the property between Fourth and Fifth streets, off Arizona Avenue.

Council members will be asked to give direction at their meeting Tuesday on how the development team led by Metropolitan Pacific Capital (MPC) should proceed with a project designed by world-famous Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.

A proposed option is the original 148-foot project that features a hotel, residential units, offices, retail space and open areas, among other features. Another option is an 84-foot-high project with many of the same features, but at a reduced size.

UNITE HERE Local 11, which represents hotel workers in Southern California, says bigger is better.

“We believe that this project, which is proposed at only 12 stories, not only pays the community back in every inch of its height through aesthetics, impacts and community benefits, but also has ripple effects that will improve design, wages, housing and public transit all over the city,” wrote union President Thomas Walsh in a letter to the council.

The letter includes praise of MPC principal John Warfel and his team for agreeing to a “standard-setting labor peace agreement,” and says the project will create “quality jobs” while being “a model of how commercial development can be used to maximize public space.”

Armen Melkonians, founder of the activist group Residocracy, told The Lookout he understood why hotel workers would support the project. But he said their view is not shared by most of the Santa Monica residents.

Fresh off last month’s major victory in which the group led a successful effort to persuade the council to reverse its approval of the 765,000-square-foot Bergamot Transit Village project, Residocracy is again putting up a fight.

The group has started an e-petition saying construction of a “green-space park” would be the best option for the property. Melkonians said Monday afternoon that he had sent out an email with the petition that day and received an “amazing” response in less than an hour.

“As a resident, I feel that the ‘opportunity’ for a proposed massive development on this ‘resident-owned’ property will not increase the quality of my life, no matter what ‘community benefits’ I am promised in return,” the petition states. “This project will only increase the traffic and congestion in our city without providing any substantial or worthwhile ‘community benefits.’”

The petition continues, “I believe that the City of Santa Monica should not be in the development business to try and make a profit. The City of Santa Monica should not view the development potential of this property at its ‘highest and best use’ from a developer's perspective in order to maximize the development of this site.”

Melkonians told The Lookout he believes the 148-foot project is the only one that is seriously on the table. He said the reduced-sized version is a “disingenuous attempt” to claim a smaller alternative exists.

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