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Proposed Downtown Development Could Reinvigorate Slow Growth Movement
By Jorge Casuso
November 6, 2019 -- Leaders of Santa Monica's slow-growth movement are taking on a major Downtown development this week after being largely inactive since a defeat at the polls three years ago.
On Thursday, the North of Montana Neighborhood Association (NOMA) will devote its monthly meeting to the "Plaza at Santa Monica," a 357,000-square-foot mixed-use hotel development proposed on City owned land.
An email invitation to the meeting promises that leaders of the slow-growth groups Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) and SMa.r.t. (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow) will go "head to head" with the developer.
"Do you want a huge, privately owned LUXURY HOTEL built at 4th and Arizona on PUBLICLY OWNED LAND in one of the most congested areas in the heart of Downtown Santa Monica?" the email from the Coalition asks.
Slow-growth leaders believe the Plaza project differs from the two other major hotel developments proposed Downtown -- the redevelopment of the Fairmont Miramar and the Frank Gehry designed hotel on Ocean Avenue.
Unlike the proposed developments nearby, the Plaza includes 106,800 square feet of creative workspace that is expected to bring more traffic to the City's most congested area, activists said.
It also would occupy 2.7 acres of public land slow-growth activists argue should be set aside for public use.
"Do we really need a developer to privatize public space?" said Diana Gordon, who formed the Coalition in 2005 to stop the proposed redevelopment of Santa Monica Place on City owned land.
"This is a privatized public space and the key word is 'privatized,'" Gordon said. "I don't think there are a lot of residents that think we need a hotel on public land or more commercial space."
Developers of the Plaza point to the proposed project's public benefits, which include 48 units of affordable housing either on site or funding to build them offsite and 200 public parking spaces.
The development also features a 17,800-square-foot public plaza that would be used for the ICE at Santa Monica skating rink built every holiday season on the vacant site and an 11,000-square-foot public park on the second level.
"With an annual programming budget of over $800,000, The Plaza will engage residents and visitors with exciting community activities including the seasonal ice skating rink included in the design," the project's website says.
The proposal also features a "specialty marketplace (that) will offer artisanal foods, crafts, and services for the community."
Gordon believes the programming perks are unnecessary, and points to efforts to "reimagine" the Promenade ("Santa Monica Is Reimagining The Promenade Three Decades After It Was Launched," November 4, 2019).
"All this suggested new programming of public space nearby to entertain and activate consumers raises the question as to whether (the Plaza) now needs a different kind of public recreational and open space experience," Gordon said.
Thursday's meeting comes almost three years to the day Measure LV, which would have capped the height of most Santa Monica developments, was defeated at the polls ("Backers of Defeated Santa Monica Slow-Growth Measure Blame Development Money, Claim Success," November 10, 2016).
The Plaza is also the first development out of the starting gate under the Downtown Community Plan approved by the Council in 2017.
The plan allows high-rises as tall as 130 feet to be built on select sites with a Development Agreement (DA) approved by the Council.
The Plaza, with a proposed height of 129 feet, is the first of the three major Downtown developments to have its Draft Environmental Impact (EIR) report released.
Hundreds of letters were submitted to the City during the comment period, Gordon said, indicating there is momentum gathering for a ballot initiative to stop the project if it wins Council approval.
Opponents could also consider floating an measure that would require Santa Monica voters to approve all private developments on public land, she said.
"This project actually had a huge amount of interest," Gordon said. "It's in the middle of Downtown. It will define Santa Monica forever."
The NOMA meeting will be held Thursday, November 7 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Montana branch library at 17th Street and Montana Avenue.
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