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Planning Commission Nixes Electric Car Showrooms  

As of September 1, 2011, ALL 1,875 retail establishments are prohibited from providing light-weight, single-use plastic carryout bags to customers at the point of sale. MORE

By Jason Islas
Lookout Staff

October 21, 2011 -- The Planning Commission deadlocked Wednesday on a proposal by city staff that would have allowed electric vehicle showrooms on Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade.

Under current zoning laws, no vehicle retail is allowed on the Promenade. However, a proposed change to the ordinance would have allowed for up to four showrooms exclusively for electric vehicles to be built along the Promenade.

Commissioner Gerda Newbold was one of the commissioners who was skeptical of the idea.

“There was a car placed in the middle of our new mall and I thought it was…a little cheesy,” said Newbold, referring to a car recently on display at Santa Monica Place.

One of the selling points behind the proposal, according to the staff report, was that the presence of an electric car showroom would draw more foot traffic to the Promenade.

Commissioner Jennifer Kennedy wasn't entirely convinced that was a good thing.

“I'm sure we'll attract visitors and people who...are attracted to the theme-parkness of it,” Kennedy said. “To do this downtown just doesn't feel right.”

Newbold seconded Kennedy's sentiment.

“I don't think that looking at even a small car dealership is pedestrian-friendly,” Newbold said, adding that it would give the Promenade more of Vegas-like ambiance.

Commissioner Richard McKinnon brought up the fact that the desire to move electric cars onto the Promenade was a response to some of the businesses on the north end moving out, but added that he didn't think electric cars were the answer.

Even Chair Jim Reis, who supported the proposed amendment did so reluctantly.

“I'm not a big fan of this idea, but I sense that this is imminent, so I'm going to vote yes,” Ries said. But not before the ordinance had been tweaked to add a caveat to allow for technology that may surpass electric cars, so long as they didn't use combustible engines.

The proposed amendment was a response to a direction handed down by the City Council in August for staff to prepare an ordinance that would allow for small showrooms where people could look at, learn about and test-drive electric vehicles, while specifically prohibiting any maintenance work on vehicles or stocking inventory.

According to the staff report, small electric car showrooms are sprouting up in places like San Jose’s Santana Row, a shopping promenade similar to the one in Santa Monica.

In August, Councilmember Bob Holbrook told The Lookout that Tesla motors was eager to fill the space of a business that will soon be leaving the block of 3rd Street between Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards.

Holbrook and Councilmember Terry O'Day have been vocal supporters of allowing electric car showrooms on the Promenade.

Newbold, McKinnon and Kennedy voted against the amended ordinance, while Ries and commissioners Jason Parry and Ted Winterer supported it.

Because the motion did not pass, the commission's decision will have to be appealed if the ordinance is to go before the council.

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