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Santa Monica Hotel Initiative War Erupts

June 04, 1989|TRACY WILKINSON | Times Staff Writer

The war of initiatives has begun.

A newly formed group of Santa Monicans is seeking support for an initiative that would ban hotel construction throughout the city for three years.

Two oceanfront hotel projects pending approval would be exempt from the measure, which also would establish bay and park cleanup funds using hotel bed taxes.

It is the second initiative drive to emerge in as many months, and is aimed at countering an earlier effort that would ban all construction of hotels and large restaurants along Santa Monica's coastline.

Each side is accusing the other of questionable motives and hidden agendas, while both said last week that they hoped voters would see through the probable confusion, support them and turn down the competing measure.

A key difference between the two proposed initiatives centers on what would happen to a prime piece of state-owned beach on Santa Monica's famed Gold Coast, where the private Sand and Sea Club sits. A luxury hotel is planned for the site.

The newest proposed initiative, backed by an ad hoc group called Santa Monicans for a Livable Environment, was unveiled Thursday at a press conference in Palisades Park overlooking the ocean, hours before proponents filed papers with the City Clerk's office.

'Beach Overlay Zone'

The initiative would establish a "Beach Overlay Zone" from Ocean Avenue to the sea. At least 50% of the hotel occupancy taxes generated by existing and future hotels in the zone would be set aside in two funds to pay for improvements to the city's parks and Santa Monica Bay.

Supporters of the proposed initiative estimated each fund would receive $1.5 million annually by 1991. If the city gives final approval to a 148-room luxury hotel proposed for the Sand and Sea site, an additional $1.3 million in anticipated lease revenues would be earmarked for beach upkeep, according to the initiative.

"A citywide moratorium will give us a breather," said Paul Rosenstein, one of the measure's proponents. "This initiative will make sure there is substantial revenue. It's a positive measure that will benefit our community as a whole."

Rosenstein and fellow members of Santa Monicans for a Livable Environment accused backers of the other initiative--a group called Save Our Beach--of mounting a thinly veiled campaign aimed primarily at saving the Sand and Sea Club. Douglas Badt, manager of the Sand and Sea for 25 years, is one of the principal backers of the Save Our Beach effort.

"It's a rotten idea to have a private club on public land," Livable Environment member Michael Hill said, nicknaming the opposing group "Save Our Beach CLUB."

"It's horrific," Hill said. "It's inexcusable."

The Save Our Beach committee denied that its goal is to save the Sand and Sea but rather to curb a recent boom in beach-area development. It accused the Livable Environment people of launching their initiative drive at the behest of major hotel developers.

The Save Our Beach initiative also establishes a Beach Overlay Zone westward from Ocean Avenue, prohibiting any new hotels, motels and restaurants over 2,000 square feet or taller than one story. It would also forbid demolition or replacement of "any existing recreational building" in the area, unless replaced by open space or a "substantially similar" recreational building. Both proposed initiatives exempt the Santa Monica Pier.

'Prudent Planning'

"The bottom line is important, but I don't think Santa Monicans want to be bought," said Sharon Gilpin, head of the Save Our Beach committee. "You can't buy your way out of polluted oceans and traffic jams (that more hotels would cause). Prudent planning is the only way."

Gilpin likened the competing initiatives to the fight in Los Angeles last year between Propositions P and O, which dealt with whether Occidental Petroleum should be allowed to drill for oil in Pacific Palisades.

While acknowledging that they will seek support from some hotel developers, members of the Livable Environment group stressed the need to find money for the city's long-neglected beach, run-down parks and a bay they said was becoming "unswimmable."

"It's time that the dollars have to come in. It's time to do more than pay lip service to the environment," said Pam Brady, president of the Santa Monica-Malibu PTA Council and lifelong resident. "I want to leave to my children a beach, parks, water that are in better condition than I find them now."

Several proponents said it was only fair for visiting guests at luxury hotels to foot part of the bill.

"I'm in love with the idea of taking money from rich tourists and giving it to all Santa Monica," said Dianne Glinos, an activist from the Pico Neighborhood Assn.

The Livable Environment people took pains to emphasize they were a broad-based coalition, coming from diverse groups that cross the city's geographical and political lines.

Long-Brewing Controversy

The controversy surrounding the Sand and Sea site at 415 Pacific Coast Highway has been brewing for some time.

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