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Commission Delays Decision on former Santa Monica Mayor’s Home

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

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

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica


By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

September 21, 2015 -- The ongoing dispute about the remodeling of the rent-controlled home in Ocean Park occupied by former Santa Monica mayor Mike Feinstein will continue for at least a few more weeks.

After two hours of testimony and discussion on Wednesday, the Planning Commission voted to continue the matter to October 7.

The owners of the four-bedroom house on Hollister Avenue, which the Landmarks Commission designated as a “structure of merit” in 2008, want to seal the back of the second floor, where a balcony once existed.

They would do this by removing two doors and replacing them with windows and clapboard siding. The Architectural Review Board (ARB) approved this plan in February, and the decision was appealed to the commission

Feinstein wants “some level of deck” returned. He told the commission his landlords’ plan was “flat, boxy, closed [and] ugly” and “doesn’t fit with our neighborhood and is in bad taste”

Co-owner Margaret Maclean said she was considering historic preservation with the plan, and “we’re trying to protect [the home] with some good decisions.” She said the plan would make the home charming.

“We understand that the tenant is disappointed that our intended improvements are not exactly what he imagined when he started this process,” Maclean told the commission.

She continued, “But perhaps he could take a moment and reflect on the fact that he lives a half-block from the ocean in a four-bedroom house that’s rent-controlled, and we’re not taking it off the market.”

Several commissioners said a balcony should be rebuilt. This, they said, would keep the house in compatibility with the other neighborhood homes.

However, City staff advised the commission it could not instruct the owners to build a balcony. The commission instead advised the owners to work with staff on changing the plan. They did not say this meant a new balcony, but it was at least implied by some of them.

The owners “know how we feel about putting a potential balcony back,” Commissioner Jennifer Kennedy said. “The opportunity for a continuance is going to hopefully facilitate more discovery about whether something like that is even feasible.”

This dispute stretches back to 2007 when the City issued a code compliance order about the deterioration of the balcony. Staff approved a plan to replace it in 2008, but the owners did not act on this.

Another plan was rejected by the ARB in 2010. The balcony was removed the next year.

A code compliance order was issued to the owners in 2014 because there was no guardrail in front of the second-floor doorway. The owners' response to the order was this new plan.

Feinstein is not alone in opposing this plan. He has many supporters who say it would harm neighborhood character. Ocean Park Association President Jim Lawson addressed the commission, saying he was speaking on behalf of himself.

“A balcony is conducive to communication with friends who have their balconies also," he said. "It allows for light, access to air and the environment. And I can speak first-hand because I live in a condo, but have a balcony, and that’s my touchy feely to the world before I step out and go to work.”

Co-owner Barbara Whitney did not appear impressed by Feinstein’s support from the neighbors and noted that she and the other owners live next door. She added that she believed were it not for Feinstein being the tenant, their plans would have been approved long ago.

“We’ve endured continuous administrative roadblocks to our plans for the last seven years, and I believe it’s largely the result of our tenant having been a City Council member and having been the former mayor and being extremely well-connected in the city,” she said.

“He knows how to work the system way better than we do.”

Feinstein did not respond to this accusation during the meeting, nor did any commissioner address it.

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