The manager of the venerable Sand and Sea Club, which is supposed to be leveled to make way for a luxury hotel, has confirmed he is backing an initiative that would ban hotel construction along Santa Monica Beach.
Douglas Badt, who has managed the club for 25 years, is expected to play an active role in the anti-hotel campaign being waged by a slow-growth group known as the "Save Our Beach Committee." He said that hotels such as the one planned for the Sand and Sea Club site block access to the beach.
"I think most people agree that the beachfront area should not be developed," Badt said. "Everyone wants the beach to stay as it is."
The proposed initiative, which backers hope to qualify for the city ballot this year, would create a "Beach Overlay Zone" that would stretch over the entire coastline. If approved, the construction of hotels, motels and big restaurants would be prohibited everywhere except at the Santa Monica Pier.
Promoters of the initiative stand to benefit from having Badt, a well-known and well-connected figure in Santa Monica, in their corner. But it also leads to speculation that Badt is engaging in a last-ditch effort to save the Sand and Sea, one of the last private beach clubs on the famed "Gold Coast."
More than 200 members joined a losing effort last year to save the white clapboard club that once housed actress Marion Davies' estate. And Sharon Gilpin, the leader of the Save Our Beach Committee, said many members still cling to the idea of preserving the Sand and Sea Club.
Some have even suggested that Badt is a leading force behind the initiative.
But Badt denies that rescuing the club is his motivation. He said the Sand and Sea Club, which sits on a $20-million plot of land owned by the state and managed by the city, could never produce enough revenue to satisfy officials. The Sand and Sea Club can only afford to pay the city $120,000 a year for the property. But the state says the city should receive at least $500,000 annually.
"I don't think this initiative has much to do with the long-term future of the club," Badt said. "It just seems that a hotel on state-owned property is inappropriate. . . . It would be nice if they could make a park out of it."
Gilpin agreed. She said the beachfront initiative is designed to protect the entire shoreline, not just one site, from further development. Gilpin said residents throughout Santa Monica are disturbed by the amount of beachfront development already under way.
"People don't want this place to look like Miami Beach," Gilpen said. "They are angry about the size of the hotels that have already been built."
The Save Our Beach Committee must collect at least 8,400 valid signatures from Santa Monicas voters to qualify their initiative for this year's ballot.
Hotel construction, which had been dormant in Santa Monica in recent years, picked up again recently under a city plan for revitalizing the beachfront.
Construction of two beach hotels is under way and would not be affected by the initiative. The 196-room, six-story Park Hyatt Santa Monica Beach Hotel is being built at the end of Pico Boulevard. And the 349-room, four-story Loews Santa Monica Beach is under construction at 1700 Ocean Ave.
The initiative could, however, directly affect two hotels that are still in the planning stages. One is a 174-room hotel planned for the area just north of Pico Boulevard. The other is the hotel slated for the Sand and Sea site.
A development team headed by Michael McCarty, owner of Michael's restaurant in Santa Monica, won the competition to build the hotel and community center on the Sand and Sea property, at 415 Pacific Coast Highway, last year.
Representatives of the project have predicted that construction of the 148-room, $300-a-night hotel would not be affected by the initiative and have implied that they would mount a court challenge if it were.
But at least one city official has indicated that he might support the initiative. Mayor Dennis Zane, the only council member to vote against McCarty's hotel proposal, said he would consider endorsing the Save Our Beach initiative. The problem, Zane said, is determing whether the measure would be enforceable.
"I'm trying to mull my options," Zane said. "If the hotel project is snuffed by the initiative, I don't know what other options are realistic, because the state requires us to generate a certain amount of revenue from that site. So in that way our options could be very limited."