Restaurateur Michael McCarty and his aides accused the mayor of Santa Monica of stacking the "chits" against them at a raucous public hearing Tuesday on the fate of a planned luxury beach hotel and community center.
Mayor Dennis Zane professed his innocence at the first break in the more than five-hour meeting attended by about 500 people, many of them announcing their views by wearing bright orange or chartreuse name tags depending on which side they favored.
McCarty and his lieutenants stormed to the council table to tell Zane they believed that something was amiss. Despite turning in 75 chits, which are requests to speak, few people in favor of the plan were called to the podium. Zane is also opposed to the plan.
When Zane insisted that he had not rearranged the chits to fit a political agenda, McCarty exploded with a common barnyard epithet.
The mayor agreed to reshuffle the small slips of paper to avoid any accusations of favoritism. Still, when the hearing broke off about 1 a.m., with about 100 speakers still unheard, about twice as many anti-hotel speakers--many of them members of the private Sand and Sea Club, which occupies the site of McCarty's proposed project--had been heard as supporters of the project.
The hearing will continue July 31, when the Santa Monica City Council will vote on the project it has long nurtured through the planning process as the best alternative for the parcel of state-owned, city-administered beach now occupied by Sand and Sea.
The dispute over the speakers, dubbed "Chit-Gate" by McCarty's project manager, was far from the only excitement at the hearing, which also featured outbursts of hissing and booing, mostly from the anti-hotel side.
Colorful speakers were on hand, including the rich, the barefoot and a man who said he founded the rock band Devo. Much of the time, the debate seemed to be about the club versus the hotel, causing one speaker to implore the council to decide the matter on the merits of the project, and not whether the Sand and Sea Club could stay a year or two longer.
While much was said, nothing was decided. The City Council will also decide July 31 whether to immediately terminate the lease of the beach club, whose members were out in force Tuesday night, arguing against such a decision.
The state has said the club must go because it is an inappropriate use for public land. McCarty's project, as it has proceeded through preliminary phases of the planning process, has been generally regarded as preferable by city officials because its community center would provide beach access and other amenities to the public, and because the hotel would generate more revenue for the city--an estimated $1 million a year for beaches and up to $2 million for other purposes.
With four council members up for reelection in November, the hotel has become a political hot potato, but council approval is nonetheless widely expected. McCarty, best known as the owner of the celebrated Santa Monica restaurant Michael's, has asked the council to place the hotel issue before the voters by tying it to one or both competing anti-hotel ballot measures already scheduled.
Both initiatives would prohibit the construction of hotels on the beach, but one is worded to exempt McCarty's project because it is already in the pipeline.
Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) has come out against the hotel as environmentally unsound for the beach. State Sen. Herschel Rosenthal (D-Los Angeles) also opposes the hotel.
About 160 people signed up to speak Tuesday night. The city clerk said the turnout was the second-highest of the past year, exceeded only by the number who sought to speak concerning a development proposal for Santa Monica Municipal Airport. The airport project was postponed indefinitely by the council early this year in the face of widespread opposition. Leaders of the opposition to that proposal included many of those who are fighting McCarty's project.
Bill Weingarten was the barefoot speaker. Placing a beach towel on the floor, he delivered an ironic monologue about how he supported the hotel as an object lesson in how the rich get richer.
"You go out and find a two-bit City Council, have them lease public land for a song and dance," Weingarten said. Then you erect an environmentally "obnoxious" building "that caters to an exclusive clientele of wealthy individuals at the expense of nearly every segment of society and surround it with a thin veneer of tangential, illusory benefits."
McCarty contended that the hearing showed who his opponents really are: Sand and Sea owner Douglas Badt and members of the club. In 1987, Badt competed with McCarty for the right to build a hotel at the site, but the council chose McCarty's proposal.
McCarty said his opponents were trying to mislead the public with claims that the beach would be swallowed up and fenced off if his hotel is approved. Instead, he said, 30 acres of beachfront will remain public.
"You're not taking away the beach and giving it to the dreaded $300-a-night hotel," he said.