The City Council has approved a long-awaited plan to renovate the landmark Santa Monica Pier, despite a last-minute protest mounted by merchants who work at the popular but faded attraction.
Guidelines for the first phase of a $26.8-million project, which includes commercial development of 150,000 square feet of the pier, was approved Tuesday night in a 6-0 vote, with one council member absent.
The plan, nearly six years in the making, is the work of the Pier Restoration Corp., a nonprofit agency set up by the city to oversee restoration of the 80-year-old facility.
Corporation members said the renovation and development will enable the pier to break even and turn a profit of at least $300,000 by 1992-93. It now operates at an annual deficit ranging from $500,000 to $1 million.
Councilman Dennis Zane, in praising the plan, said it offered the "proper balance of funk and glitz."
In Phase 1 of the project, the city will spend $7 million over three years to improve lighting, rails and sewerage and to reinforce the platform. At the same time, $13.6 million will be sought from private investors to develop 134,000 square feet of the pier, including restaurants, amusement games, rides and shops.
A second phase of the project, intended to develop an additional 16,000 square feet, would be designed and voted on when the first phase is finished.
Members of the Pier Restoration Corp., who presented the plan to the council, said the project seeks to maintain the whimsical, eclectic flavor that the pier has represented in the past.
"We believe this is the way to save the pier," said Ruth Yannatta Goldway, former mayor of Santa Monica and a member of the corporation's board of directors. "(The plan) restores and preserves the unique qualities that distinguish (the Santa Monica Pier) from other piers."
But several of the 13 merchants who work at the facility complained that the Pier Restoration Corp. has not taken into consideration the amount of traffic that development will generate and has failed to provide adequate parking.
They also said they feared the development would lead to a gentrification of the pier. Developers would charge higher rents that would force the merchants off the pier, and prices would go up all around, driving away lower-income visitors, they contended.
A handful of merchants gave out flyers at the City Hall entrance as people filed in for Tuesday's meeting. The yellow leaflets showed a pier clogged with cars and warned: "Gridlock, pollution, parking problems. This may be the future of the Santa Monica Pier."
Over the weekend, the group took out a full-page newspaper ad with the same message, distributed 25,000 flyers to Santa Monica residents and conducted a telephone campaign to mobilize opponents to the pier plan, according to Ron Risch, a manager for the company that runs the bumper cars on the pier.
Tuesday, about a dozen people spoke against the project, and a similar number spoke in favor.
"They say they want to keep the flavor of the pier. I don't see how they can do that" with the amount of development that is being sought, Risch said before the meeting.
"I don't see how we can keep catering to low- and middle-income visitors. Your $2 hamburger is going to be $5. You are going to price the lower-income visitors right out of the picture."
But Pier Restoration Corp. representatives said restaurants will offer a full range of prices. Part of the goal is to attract more visitors at night and off-season, they said.
"I hope we can convince them that it is not our desire to . . . gentrify (the pier) in such a way that would drive anybody away," Henry Custis, chairman of the corporation board, said in an interview before the meeting.
"This (design of the plan) has taken a long time because we have wanted to be careful not to drive current tenants or pier lovers away," he said. "It is not overdevelopment, but development in a fashion that makes the pier more usable for everyone in the state of California. It is a much more modest scheme than what could go in there."
In a gesture to the merchants, council members Herb Katz and David Finkel sought to strengthen the language that gives preference in bidding for a future spot on the pier to those business owners already working there.
"We think we've given them some protection," Katz said.