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Coalitions to Face Off at Miramar Hearing Tuesday Night in Santa Monica  


By Jason Islas and Jorge Casuso
Staff Writer

April 24, 2012 -- The highly anticipated hearing at Tuesday night's City Council meeting over the comprehensive redevelopment of the Miramar Hotel will pit two fledgling coalitions -- with supporters arguing that it would be a boon for the city and detractors countering that a neighborhood would be sacrificed in the process.

Both groups are expected to pack City Hall for a hearing to discuss the design of the project , which would add as many as 120 condominiums in three new buildings replacing the two main buildings. The council also will discuss the project's community benefits and willl decide whether to initiate negotiations for a Development Agreement (DA).

Friends of the Miramar (FOM), whose more than 700 members include three former mayors, two City managers and a list of top civic leaders, will urge the council to move ahead with a project they argue will bring community benefits, as well as much needed revenue to the City.

“The Miramar is part of the lifeblood of the community,” said former mayor Nat Trives, the group's co-chair, adding that with the loss of redevelopment money, DAs are a major source of municipal revenue. “I see money coming [from this project] into the General Fund.

“In order to continue to be a prime destination for world travelers, we have to stay competitive,” Trives said. And in order to be competitive, the Miramar has to be allowed to redevelop its property, he said.

The opposing Save Santa Monica Coalition, which claims some 1,000 members with a core of residents who live near the hotel, counters that the redevelopment will destroy the character of their neighborhood, erect a "massive wall" along Second Street and generate traffic.

"They're going to screw up the view and put up a huge wall (of buildings) that looks like China or Russia built by the Soviets," said Robert Gurfield, who owns a condominium behind the proposed project and is a founder and co-chair of the coalition.

"I'm not alone here," said Gurfield, adding that he was assured by City officials when he bought the condo six years ago that his view would not be blocked. "The enormity of the project is a disservice to the City of Santa Monica."

Development Agreements allow developers to exceed zoning and land use standards, while remaining consistent with the City's Land Use and Circulation Elements (LUCE).

To address the issue of massing, which was a major concern when the Planning Commission voted in February to recommend that the council approve a DA, Miramar officials have included four alternative massing plans that would move the bulk of the buildings away from Second Street. One of the scenarios places the buildings along Wilshire Boulevard.

“It's premature to say that they are responding to all concerns, but they are listening,” said Albin Gielicz, co-chair of Friends and vice-chair of the Wilmont Neighborhood Coalition, which represents residents in the area.

In a letter to the council Tuesday morning, Wilmont Chair Valerie Griffin noted that the proposed redevelopment would "provide sufficient on-site parking for their workers," freeing up spaces on the street for residents.

Friends of the Miramar say they are supporting a Santa Monica institution that has a long history of active community involvement.

“The Miramar has stepped up on every occasion it has been asked to,” she said Jenna Linnenkens, a member of the Chamber of Commerce board and of the Friends Steering Committee.

But opponents argue that the proposed redevelopment is not a question of rewarding the Miramar for its long history of community involvement, it's a question of scaling down what they consider a massive, unappealing development.

"They need to reduce the size and mass and height of their renovation," Gurfield said, adding that the proposed design has "no California spirit" and "takes away all the light and air."

Gurfield called the design "ugly" and said a proposed park at the corner of Ocean Avenue and Wilshire would be "a questionable community benefit," since the hotel would often use it for private parties and receptions.

But supporters of the redevelopment contend that the proposed project would provide a number of important community benefits in addition to the park.  

Former mayor Paul Rosenstein, a member of the Friends steering committee, said he was impressed with the Miramar's “willingness to provide affordable housing.” A longtime union electrician and organizer, the former mayor said he was also happy to see that the Miramar intends to remain a union hotel.

The details of the affordable housing – which would be built on a lot across Second Street from the hotel – have yet to be worked out, but the Miramar could build as many as 40 new affordable units as part of the project, according to the City staff report.

The hotel also came to an agreement with the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE) "to protect hotel workers' jobs during the construction,” Rosenstein said, assuring they will have the right to return to their jobs at the redeveloped hotel.

“The Miramar is an important hotel in the city and it needs renewal,” Rosenstein said.


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