Santa Monica Lookout
B e s t   l o c a l   s o u r c e   f o r   n e w s   a n d   i n f o r m a t i o n

Two Small Hotels in Downtown Santa Monica Spark Labor Concerns

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark


Rusty's Surf

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

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

July 22, 2013 -- With much ado about three proposed towers in Santa Monica's Downtown, plans by OTO Development to build two six-story hotels in the heart of the bayside city have gone largely unnoticed.

But, with the Planning Commission poised to look at the proposed development agreements for the two hotels Wednesday, labor activists are concerned that OTO Development isn't offering enough in way of community benefits.

“They (OTO Development) came in at a time when the community was less involved.” said Tom Walsh, president of Unite Here Local 11, the hospitality workers' union for the Los Angeles and Orange County region. “The community has remained kind of silent.”

Walsh said that the plans, submitted in July 2011, to build the two hotels -- one a Hampton Inn by Hilton, the other a Courtyard by Marriott -- offered “a very weak community benefits package.”

Corry Oakes, CEO and founder of OTO Development, said that it was very early in the development agreement (DA) negotiation process.

“We understand that development in Santa Monica has a process and we want to make sure that we follow that process as the community expects,” Oakes told The Lookout Friday.

“There are ongoing discussions with the union,” he said.

When plans for the two hotels, which developers hope to build at 501 Colorado Avenue and 1554 Fifth Street, originally went before the Planning Commission as part of an informal review of the projects in December 2011, the commissioners gave them a mixed review.

While some commissioners agreed that the two hotels' proximity to the future Expo Light Rail Station -- across the street on Colorado Avenue -- was ideal, most were put-off by a lack of a living wage provision.

Over the last year, much of the community's attention has been focused on the question of height -- and density -- limits that are being proposed for Santa Monica's nascent Downtown Specific Plan. (“Planning Commission Continues Marathon Discussion of Downtown Santa Monica Plan,” July 19)

Three major developers have stirred much controversy after proposing major overhauls to their properties along Ocean Avenue.

Developers have proposed towers ranging from 195 feet to about 300 feet, vastly exceeding limits set by the current zoning standards.

However, all three of those developers have committed, at least verbally, to working with Unite Here.

The largest of the proposed overhauls, the $255 million overhaul of the Fairmont Miramar, has received support from Unite Here because of provisions in its DA that would keep the hotel unionized and allow workers to return to work after the renovation.

While the other two projects -- FelCor's remodel of the Wyndham Hotel across the Santa Monica Pier and the Frank Gehry project at Santa Monica Boulevard and Ocean Avenue -- don't yet have DAs, developers have committed to making the respective hotels union.

The Miramar was one of the first hotels in Santa Monica to unionize after a pitched battle between hotel owners in the bayside city and labor organizers that spanned much of the mid 1990s and culminated with a failed bid for a living wage ordinance at the turn of the century.

While the ordinance didn't pass, several major hotels ended up with labor agreements and new hotels have felt the pressure to follow suit from the City's leadership.

Most recently, the City Council approved plans for to turn an old office building at 710 Wilshire Boulevard into a 238-room hotel, but only after the developer agreed to a living-wage provision in the DA. (“City Council Approves Living Wage for Proposed Santa Monica Hotel,” March 2012)

Over the years, Unite Here also became a close ally of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR), one of the leading power brokers in Santa Monica politics.

“It's really important that workers are treated fairly and well,” said SMRR Co-Chair Patricia Hoffman.

“This is not where they want to develop if they want to pay minimum wage,” Hoffman said about the proposed projects. She added that she was heartened that OTO Development had begun talking with Unite Here.

For Unite Here's leadership, getting OTO Development to make similar commitments for its two much smaller hotels is just as important as working with the bigger hotels.

“Obviously, the bigger development, the more attention it draws,” said Walsh, but if these two should be approved as-is, “it would set a very strong, negative precedent for all these hotels that are watching and waiting.”

He added that Unite Here plans on turning out in force to Wednesday's meeting to call for more labor-friendly DAs.

Oakes is optimistic that things will pan out. “We're excited about the possibility of becoming a part of the Santa Monica community,” he said.

Lookout Logo footer image copyrightCopyright 1999-2013 All Rights Reserved. EMAIL