The Santa Monica City Council has given the go-ahead for a seven-story hotel and commercial complex that would provide millions of dollars in revenues for the financially troubled Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.
The $25-million project is planned for a 2.25-acre district-owned site near 4th Street and the Santa Monica Freeway. The district's administration building is on the property, which is next to Santa Monica High School.
The council approved the proposal for the 255-room hotel and three-story commercial complex by a 4-2 vote after a three-hour public hearing. The vote upheld the city Planning Commission's earlier recommended approval of the project.
The development, a joint venture of the school district and Midis Properties Ltd. of Westlake, is expected to provide much-needed annual revenue for the school district, which faces a $1.7-million shortfall next year.
Direct Tax Benefits
In return for a long-term lease, the developers have agreed to build a new $2-million school headquarters and pay almost $1 million a year in rent on various school properties. In addition, the city is expected to receive up to $750,000 in direct tax benefits from the development.
Councilman Dennis Zane, who voted in favor of the plan, said the city had an obligation to support the project because it conforms to the city's land-use plan and will help the schools. Zane said he also favored the development because it will have a very small impact on residents.
"It was preferable to locate the building there . . . because few people are affected," Zane said. "It will have little impact on anybody's view."
But Councilman David G. Epstein, who opposed the plan along with Councilman Herb Katz, said the spot is a "lousy" place for a hotel. He accused his colleagues who approved the plan of bowing to pressure from the school board.
"Some of the school people put the heat on a couple of council people," Epstein said. "That's not inappropriate in politics. But if this hadn't been the school board, there would not have been four votes for this project."
Location 'Cut Off'
Epstein said the project is a bad idea because the location is "cut off from downtown and cut off from the civic center." He said the project, which will include a bar, is also inappropriate for a site abutting a high school.
"You could make money by placing an opium den next to the high school," Epstein said. "But that doesn't mean you should ignore good planning."
Several speakers also criticized the development, saying it was too large for the area and likely to cause severe traffic problems. They also complained that the project could encourage drug and alcohol abuse among students.
But the majority of the council members said those possible problems were far outweighed by the benefits to the school district.
In a related action, the council also said it would consider providing regular financial assistance to the district. The council directed City Manager John Jalili to report on ways the council can aid the district. The city has never provided regular assistance to the district.
Mayor Christine E. Reed, who proposed the idea, said she would favor a cash grant of about $100,000 this year. Assistance next year would depend on school needs, she said.