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Downtown Santa Monica Could Get Neighborhood Group

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By Jason Islas
Lookout reporter

March 5, 2014 -- While Downtown Santa Monica has experienced a housing boom, residents of the area have yet to organize their own neighborhood group.

Now, with three controversial hotel projects proposed for the central commercial district, residents are taking steps to band together and weigh in on three major developments proposed along Ocean Avenue.

“This is the last part of the city that needs a resident group,” said Ellen Hannan, the treasurer with Mid City Neighbors, one of seven officially-recognized neighborhood organizations in Santa Monica.

“People have asked us to be included in our groups but Downtown is special,” Hannan said.

Due to incentives passed by the City Council in 1996, Downtown Santa Monica saw its resident population more than double between 2000 and 2010 -- from 1,340 to 3,075, according to Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., the nonprofit that oversees management of the district.

Since 2010, hundreds of additional housing units have been built Downtown or are in the development pipeline, according to the City’s website.

“There's been talk about formation of (a Downtown group) for a while,” said Deputy City Manager Kate Vernez. “Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. has offered to help,” she added, referring to the agency that runs Downtown.

Santa Monica’s seven neighborhood groups were “created to help you stay informed about what the City Council and various city commissions are doing about issues that affect our daily lives and our future,” reads the Wilmont Neighborhood Coalition’s website.

Wilmont -- which represents the neighborhood just north of Downtown between Wilshire Boulevard and Montana Avenue -- was embroiled in a controversy two years ago after its former leadership voted to endorse plans to redevelop the Fairmont Miramar Hotel. (“Santa Monica's Wilmont Coalition Gets New Board, Maybe,” July 9, 2012)

The Miramar has proposed replacing two buildings on its campus, which is on the border between Downtown and Wilmont, with three new buildings, including a tower that could be more than 20 stories.

“Do you want Santa Monica to look like West LA?” Wilmont’s website asks in bold letters above a link to information about Santa Monica’s rezoning process.

Other neighborhood groups’ websites focus on such issues as updating their membership rolls, the status of Santa Monica Airport’s future or the beautification of Lincoln Boulevard.

But with the controversy stirred up by three proposed hotel projects Downtown that range from 195 feet and more than 300 feet tall, any new group representing residents in the area will likely make development the key issue.

But organizing a new group recognized by the City and eligible for municipal funding requires undergoing a process, according to City officials.

“Forming a neighborhood group is one thing,” said Vernez, adding that it is essentially a grass-roots effort. “Being a recognized Neighborhood Group, where you get a grant from the City, is different.”

In order to qualify for funding -- up to a $4,000 grant that then must be matched -- a neighborhood group has to meet certain criteria, Vernez said.

Those criteria include having a set of bylaws, holding at least one annual general membership meeting and representing “a commonly recognized neighborhood within Santa Monica,” according to the City’s website.

Hannan said that the other neighborhood groups are supportive of helping form a group Downtown.

But for now, there are “issues” working out the boundaries for Downtown and “the mountain of paperwork that the City, State and IRS require to get started,” Hannan said.

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