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Santa Monica Planning Commission Pushes Hotel Developer for Higher Wages  


By Jason Islas
Lookout Staff

February 21, 2012 -- Santa Monica's Planning Commission on Wednesday recommended that the City Council demand higher wages for workers at a proposed hotel Downtown, possibly setting a precedent for other new hotels in the beachside city.

The development agreement for the hotel that would occupy the landmark Santa Monica Professional Building at 710 Wilshire Boulevard suggests a living wage of $11.89 an hour, or $10.64 an hour with health benefits, a rate which the Planning Commission thought was too low.

Attorney Ken Kutcher, representing the developer, said that a higher wage could make it harder for the new hotel to offer competitive rates to guests.

The living wage "is a wage rate that corresponds directly to wage rates paid to hotel employees in the LAX area,” he told the commission.

The hearing on the development agreement (DA) was continued from the January 25 meeting after commissioners unanimously decided that they needed more time to take a look at the living wage provision they had been given earlier that day.

At the January meeting, several members of Unite Here Local 11, the hospitality workers' union, spoke in favor of a higher living wage ordinance.

Representatives of Local 11 have called for a living wage provision upwards of $15 an hour for workers.

Planning Commissioner Richard McKinnon said that a provision for a higher living wage could set a precedent for the negotiation of future DAs.

As the DA stands, the hotel would bring 284 rooms to the northeastern edge of Downtown, an area that City and Downtown officials agree could use more activity. Plans call for adding one 60 to 81-foot building along Seventh Street, currently a parking lot, while the adjacent Santa Monica Professional Building on Wilshire Boulevard – a City landmark built in 1927 – would be "repurposed."

The DA also calls for several other community benefits, including a student internship program targeted at students from low-income families.

There is also a local hiring provision that would require hotel operator to first look for employees from Santa Monica.

According to the DA, the developer is also required to pay $244,000 to the City for improvements to Santa Monica's transportation infrastructure.

Santa Monica has had a living wage ordinance since July 2005. In February of that year, the City Council voted to adopt a $11.50 an hour living wage, but only for City contracts over $50,000 and for City employees.

In the state of California, the minimum wage is $8 an hour, 75 cents higher than the Federal minimum wage.


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