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Local Union Defends Lobbying Efforts for Santa Monica Arts Colony Hotel
By Niki Cervantes
February 1, 2018 -- Unite Here Local 11 on Wednesday jabbed back at a blog attacking its lobbying efforts on behalf of a seven-story hotel in Santa Monica's Bergamot arts colony that was opposed by many tenants and community members.
The post on Tuesday, by an online group set up to combat Local 11’s clout at City Hall -- called Eyes on 11 -- was an attempt “to advance an anti-worker agenda by telling one side of a story,” the union said in a response Wednesday ("Local Union Criticized for Lobbying Santa Monica City Hall for Seven-Story Hotel," January 31, 2018).
Opponents of the Worthe Hotel said the project would markedly diminish the artistic vibe of Bergamot Station Arts Center and that they were fighting to “preserve” the colony’s character.
But when critics use words like seeking “to preserve the character” of a neighborhood, they usually mean “keeping working people out,” said Danielle Wilson, a Local 11 research analyst and spokesperson.
“The Bergamot project, in particular, exemplifies responsible development: it will be eco-friendly, provide the community with accessible art space, and create good jobs for Santa Monica residents through local hiring provisions,” Wilson said.
“Anyone committed to making Santa Monica a more inclusive city to live and work in would support such a project,” the statement said.
Eyes on 11, which is part of the anti-union Center for Union Facts, entered the stage late last year as the season for the November 2018 elections was already beginning. The group has been ramping up its attacks on the union, which represents hospitality workers, since then.
Local 11 has held significant sway with the City’s elected leaders for decades.
Lately, however, the union’s pro-development stance is also running afoul of residents in the city’s neighborhood organizations trying to rein in the estimated 3.8 million square feet in building projects in the City’s development pipeline over the last year.
Aside from the Worthe Hotel in Bergamot, three large Downtown projects anchored by hotels -- one of which is, like the Worthe, on City-owned property -- are awaiting council action.
All are opposed by neighborhood associations.
Although the battle over Bergamot hotel ended eight months ago when the council approved it, Eyes on 11’s newest blog post tapped into lingering resentment about the power of an outsider versus the influence of residents.
But Wilson said the blog post failed to discuss the arguments of supporters, which included people in the Pico Neighborhood, who wanted to see the embrace of the arts colony include more than the arts community.
The plan by the Worthe Group preserves four of the five existing buildings on the five-acre site, and adds six buildings, one of which would eventually house a new art museum.
Most of the remaining space is earmarked for gallery, nonprofit and cultural uses, “creative” office space and a restaurant/café. Instead of surface parking, the project includes a shared City Yards parking structure.
The fight over the hotel centered on the future of Bergamot, which had evolved over the last few decades from a warehouse district into a reputable yet funky/chic enclave for the local arts world.
Tenants also were subsidized by the City.
The council City decided to redevelop Bergamot after the arrival of Expo.
Although much of the Bergamot community rebelled against the hotel, supporters noted the plan added other aspects worth considering.
For instance, the plan took pains to protect tenants from future rent increases beyond inflation once their subsidized rents ended.
Worthe’s plan was also less invasive than others that had been reviewed at first by the City, supporters said.
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