By Lookout Staff
June 10, 2009 – Despite the pleas of more than two dozen Santa Monica residents, the City Council Tuesday decided that a former mayor’s rent control building did not merit landmark designation, paving the way for the development of luxury condominiums.
The former tenants -- whose campaign to save their cheap rent control units in one of the city’ priciest parcels quickly spread to anti-growth advocates -- had successfully lobbied the Landmarks Commission to grant the designation because the building was the longtime home of the city’s first female mayor, Clo Hoover. ("Tenants Hope Late Mayor Can Save Building," August 25, 2008)
But the council voted 4 to 2 to uphold the appeal by the Texas-based developer Trammel Crow, paving the way for the demolition of the 47-unit building on the corner of Ocean Avenue and San Vicente Boulevard. (Mayor Ken Genser, who lives down the block from the building, stepped down for the item.)
"The problem I have is if this building is worthy of landmarking because Clo Hoover worked there and lived there during her time on council, then perhaps Council member (Robert ) Holbrook's house should be landmarked," Council member Gleam Davis said.
Proponents of the designation – many of whom had backed a failed ballot initiative last November to cap most commercial development in the city – argued that Hoover was a major historical figure and that her home helped shape some of her key policy decisions.
But in the end, the council followed the recommendation of City staff, which found that the apartment complex did not merit landmark designation simply because it once belonged to Hoover. The building, staff told the council, failed to meet any of the other five criteria for landmark designation. ("City Council Should Deny Landmark Status for Former Mayor’s Building, Staff Says," June 5, 2009)
Representatives of the developer noted that while 31 previous landmark designations were tied to historical figures, in all the other cases, the designated landmark met at least one of the other criteria.
"We suggest because it is so unique that it requires you to pay particular attention and carefully scrutinize this," said Chris Harding, the land use attorney representing Trammel Crow.
Council member Kevin McKeown, who, along with Bobby Shriver, cast the two dissenting votes, argued that the building’s location may have shaped some of the political decisions made by Hoover, whose penthouse apartment faced the ocean.
He also noted that the building was known for the Soviet Monica sign that hung on the corner façade for years. The red and yellow sign with a hammer and sickle was proudly displayed by Hoover’s son Chet, a tireless crusader against rent control.
An old council colleague of Hoover’s countered the argument that the apartment was the scene of key policy decisions, such as Hoover’s opposition to the destruction of the Santa Monica Pier.
"I never thought of her apartment as being her office,” said John Bohn, who served on the council with Hoover.
Tuesday’s decision will not likely end the controversy surrounding one of Santa Monica’s most coveted pieces of real estate. Trammel Crow is expected to file for a development agreement to build a luxury condominium complex.
A development agreement allows developers to exceed zoning and land use standards, while remaining consistent with local planning policies under the general plan.
The Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City -- which sponsored the failed anti-growth initiative last November -- fired off a letter to the council Monday warning that it would be closely monitoring the fate of the building. ("Coalition Opposes Condo Development," June 9, 2009)