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Santa Monica Council Rejects Union’s Challenge of Georgian Hotel Modifications

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

October 1, 2015 -- Limited expansion of restaurant service at the Georgian Hotel on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica will go forward after the City Council on Tuesday rejected an appeal by the Unite Here Local 11 union of the permit granted last year by the Planning Commission.

The union challenged the expansion, which includes increasing the number of main floor dining seats from 50 to 63 and allowing non-hotel guests to use the basement dining section, on several grounds.

Among the union's objections were that the expansion would negatively affect coastal hotel access for lower-income people and it required more parking than what it determined the hotel or city could handle.

“I’m just recommending you say no,” union representative Melanie Luthern told the council. “If a business doesn’t have the parking, if the city doesn’t have the capacity to have parking in the area, we should just say no. We don’t have to say yes to everything.”

Parking was the hot topic of conversation among council members during the two-hour hearing.

City staff's calculations determined the hotel would have to produce 26 extra parking spaces to accommodate the service expansion.

However, staff recommended that the space requirement be reduced to 15 (all off-site through valet service) in exchange for various features instituted by the hotel that it said would reduce traffic demand.

Council members who argued in favor of the parking space reduction said, among other things, that the service expansion would not actually bring significantly more traffic to the hotel.

“You’re not making the building any bigger.” Council member Gleam Davis said. “You’re not adding any hotel rooms. It’s a small space downstairs” where non-hotel guests would be granted access.

"So it’s not like 200 people were coming and now 1,000 people were coming,” she added. “It’s an intensification, but not a great one.”

Mayor Kevin McKeown and Mayor Pro Tem Tony Vazquez were skeptical.

McKeown said he needed a finding that would give him a reason to grant the variance.

He later became convinced one existed when Davis pointed out the service expansion could bring a small number of extra people inside to see the building, which is a designated landmark.

“The ability to have that space be productively used and seen by people is an important distinction compared to some other place in downtown that doesn’t have that historic nature,” McKeown said.

Vazquez also sided with McKeown and the three other council members in attendance to vote in favor of the parking reduction, despite calling it “not the ideal situation.”

He was willing to compromise because a council decision needed to happen or else the previous one by the Planning Commission would go into effect.

Vazquez and others did not want to revert to the commission's ruling because it included approval of a side door access they feared would negatively affect residents living next door.

The council’s decision also included withdrawing the permit’s requirements for a two drinks per-person limit and that hotel patrons need to order food when purchasing alcohol.

While McKeown voted along with his colleagues on the dais, he did warn earlier in the session that this service expansion was an example of what he considered to be “incrementalism."

“What we seem to have happening is these rather small expansions and intensifications, which over time transform the fundamental nature of the business that was there for many, many years,” he said.

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