The Santa Monica City Council, unswayed by threats of a public referendum from leaders of the city's burgeoning slow-growth movement and warnings of political disaster from two of its own members, tentatively approved the final stages of the controversial Colorado Place development on Wednesday.
The 4-2 vote allowing Southmark Pacific Corp. to proceed with plans for more than 1.5 million square feet of development came after six hours of spirited discussion and debate and overturned a Planning Commission recommendation for reducing the scale of the project.
Mayor James P. Conn, who broke with his allies in Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights by voting in favor of the large development on land now occupied by light-industrial buildings and a school, said Southmark Pacific's plans for a retail-office-hotel complex clearly warranted approval.
"This development agreement is the best thing we can do given the circumstances we are in at this time," he said. "My sense is that something is going to get built on that land whether it's this or something else."
Councilman Herb Katz, another supporter, said the council could not let general concerns about growth prejudice its views on well-planned development. He said approval of the project was imperative.
"It's scary," Katz added. "It's scary because no one wants change. But this is a positive change."
Southmark Pacific officials were elated by the council vote. Corporation president Paul Giuntini praised the decision as his employees, who spent nearly two years fighting for the project, gave one another victory hugs.
Giuntini said the agreement, which contained a clause requiring that Southmark contribute $5 million to a special traffic fund, was fair.
Warnings on Future
However, Councilmen Dennis Zane and David Finkel, who voted against the project, joined slow-growth advocates in warning that the final stages of Colorado Place would create traffic congestion, pollution and set a dangerous precedent for development proposals pending before the city.
Zane, a one-time supporter of the project, said that the council had a chance to show that it was committed to the quality of life in Santa Monica.
"We're not Los Angeles yet and I'd like to keep it that way," Zane said. "Approval of this project is going to be disastrous for our community."
Duke Kelso, a spokesman for residents who oppose the project, echoed Zane's comments. Kelso said opponents would immediately start collecting signatures in support of placing the issue before the voters by referendum. But he conceded that any effort to overturn the council's decision is a long shot.
The group would have to produce about 6,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot. "If Santa Monica residents don't agree (with the council's approval), they have to work fast and hard to get the 6,000 signatures," Kelso said.
Under Wednesday's agreement, which still faces formal approval, Phase 3 of Colorado Place will consist of a nine-story hotel, 25,000 square feet of restaurants, a 60,000-square-foot health club, 10,000 square feet of retail space, 20,000 square feet of banks and about 620,500 square feet of office space on 12 acres bounded by Colorado Avenue, 20th Street and Olympic and Cloverfield boulevards.
Phase 2, which also received council approval Wednesday, will consist of a five-story office building, a motion-picture theater complex with four screens and 1,500 seats and a park. Phase 1, an office-retail-restaurants complex, is already completed. Those two phases occupy an area bounded by Colorado Avenue, Cloverfield Boulevard, Broadway and 26th Street.
The city's development agreement with Southmark Pacific was nearly two years in the making and came after the Dallas-based developer filed a lawsuit alleging that officials had reneged on an earlier development contract.
The agreement requires that Southmark spend $3.3 million for housing and parks, $250,000 for child care and at least $250,000 for art work. The corporation also agreed to a last-minute proposal, made by Katz, requiring Southmark to place $5 million in a traffic mitigation fund.
The Colorado Place project is expected to create 3,492 jobs, according to city officials. It also is expected to add more than $1 million in tax revenues each year.
Those considerations were overshadowed at the council meeting as slow-growth advocates and development proponents squared off over more fundamental issues such as parking, traffic, pollution and the shape of the city's future.
A land-use plan approved by the city several years ago targeted the area owned by Southmark Pacific for intense development. But slow-growth concerns in Los Angeles alerted residents to the threat posed by overdevelopment in Santa Monica, and intense opposition built as the council meeting neared.