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|Santa Monica City Council Gives Initial Go-Ahead for Two Downtown Hotels|
By Jason Islas
April 12, 2012 -- The Santa Monica City Council on Tuesday voted to move forward with Development Agreements (DAs) for two mid-priced hotels at Fifth Street and Colorado Avenue, bringing to three the number of new Downtown hotels in the planning pipeline.
The proposed hotels – a Courtyard by Marriott and a Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton – would bring a total of almost 270 rooms across the street from the future site of the Expo Light Rail terminal, which is expected to open in 2015.
“Having mid-range hotels so close to the Expo I think is an excellent fit,” said Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis, adding that “there's not a lot of building of mid-range hotels” in downtown Los Angeles.
As a result, Davis said, Santa Monica could draw visitors coming to Los Angeles for an event at the LA Convention Center who can't or don't want to stay in Downtown LA's pricier hotels.
The approvals came shortly after the council indicated during a study session Tuesday that developers should be required to provide greater community benefits when they negotiate development agreements with the City.
Though the DAs for the two proposed hotels have yet to be drafted, one community benefit that the council clearly wants is a living wage provision similar to the one required for a proposed 285-room Downtown hotel at 710 Wilshire Boulevard approved by the council in March.
“They have to pay a living wage,” Davis said. “We have to impose it on them... otherwise we don't get it in the 710 Wilshire project.”
One of the arguments that has been made against enforcing a living wage in Development Agreements is that it puts individual businesses at a disadvantage, unless all the competitors are required to pay the same wages.
The specifics of any wages will be fleshed out later in the DA process. The wages the council approved on March 20 for the hotel at 710 Wilshire call for $12.50 an hour or $11.25 with health benefits.
Council members on Tuesday said they wanted to see more details regarding some other provisions in the future DAs.
“We need to further refine and define what the 'local hire' is… what healthcare is,” said Council member Pam O'Connor, echoing Council member Bobby Shriver's comments.
Shriver said that it would be shameful if workers got a living wage but had to rely on Medi-Cal, a State program that serves low income families and individuals who can't afford to pay for health coverage.
Another major issue was transportation management. Shriver said he would like to see employees of the proposed hotels get free public transit passes. Though most council members agreed in spirit, they said that a discounted transit pass would be more suitable.
Since the hotels will be close to the Expo line station, O'Connor said she would like to see the hotels offer discounted day passes to guests to help mitigate traffic caused by visitors.
One of the hotels, the Marriott project, located on the northwest corner of Fifth and Colorado, would replace Midas and Royalty Autobody, two local businesses that arguably have some historical significance to the Downtown area.
The City's Landmarks Commission is set to consider a historical designation for the building, which was used by inventor Waldo Waterman between 1935 and 1938 to develop the flying car.
If the Midas building gets a landmark designation, it is certain to affect the design of the proposed Marriott building, but it is unclear exactly how.
Shriver suggested turning the building into a lobby restaurant called Midas.
Mayor Richard Bloom said that the two proposed hotels have an opportunity to make this prime Downtown corner unique and interesting to visitors coming off the light rail.
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