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City Council Green-lights Two Mid-Priced Hotels in Downtown Santa Monica

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

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

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier


By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

November 14, 2013 -- The Santa Monica City Council unanimously approved plans for two six-story, moderately-priced hotels in the heart of Downtown Santa Monica Tuesday.

The decision comes days after OTO Development, which proposed the two hotels across the street from the future terminus of the Expo Light Rail, signed an agreement with UNITE HERE Local 11, which represents hospitality workers in the county. ("Union Signs Agreement with OTO Development for Two Downtown Santa Monica Hotels," November 9)

While staff recommended that OTO agree to a $14.08 minimum wage for workers -- a number equal to Santa Monica’s living wage requirement for City contractors -- the developers agreed to union demands for $15.37 an hour Tuesday.

“For me, the number one community benefit is how they treat their workers,” said Councilmember Gleam Davis Tuesday.

Since taxes from hotels make up about 14 percent of the City’s general fund revenue, Davis said, “I think it's so important that we as a community not realize that revenue on the backs of underpaid workers.”

The deal struck between OTO and the union late Friday after months of negotiations meant that UNITE HERE would throw its weight behind the two hotels, which it did Tuesday.

"We wanted to let you know that it is clear to us that OTO has made significant changes to their project," Francis Engler, UNITE HERE’s westside organizing director, told the Council.

Mike Gallen, OTO’s director of west coast development, said, “We have worked extremely hard to get these projects right.”

To that end, OTO agreed to have an internship program open to students from Santa Monica High School or Santa Monica College that will target as many as four at-risk youth a year.

The two projects will also include local hiring provisions, environmentally-friendly building standards and space dedicated for a bike share station.

Much of the public testimony Tuesday reflected labor’s new-found support for the projects with many of the speakers lauding OTO’s willingness to work with the union.

Even Councilmember Kevin McKeown, who is, in his words is “a hard sell” on many development projects, was happy with the final proposed projects.

“I get the sense that we're all waiting for balloons to rise and fireworks to go off,” he said about the mood in the council chambers Tuesday.

“It’s important to have a range of hotels” in the Downtown, McKeown said. And, he added that the hotels’ proximity to the future Expo Light Rail stop at Fourth Street and Colorado Avenue will help reduce guests’ reliance on cars.

While support for the projects -- and the higher living wage -- was unanimous, Mayor Pam O’Connor wondered about requiring hoteliers to pay a higher living wage than the City currently pays its contractors.

“We need to discuss the living wage for the City,” she said, adding that she plans to place an item on an upcoming Council agenda to discuss the matter.

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