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Issues Obscured in Hotel Coverage

July 22, 1990

In its coverage of the proposed luxury hotel on the Santa Monica beach (Westside, July 15), The Times has placed too much emphasis on personalities and not enough on the public policy dispute.

The first issue is the impact of private development on the public environment. Building a $300-a-night hotel on public parkland is a bad idea. Nearly 50% of California's beaches are in private hands already.

This non-essential project will generate 3,000 more vehicle trips per day on the already-choked Pacific Coast Highway. It will pollute the air with construction dust in excess of allowable levels for two years. It will increase the sewage flow from 11,000 to 25,000 gallons per day on a sewage system already past its limit. Water usage will increase from 24,000 to 45,000 gallons per day while the rest of us are trying to conserve.

The second issue is whether we should exploit a finite environmental resource to generate revenue for social programs. The hotel purports to provide "public access," mainly through a community center, showers, a restaurant and a sculpture garden--token gestures to buy support for the luxury purposes.

The hotel is defended as a cornucopia of revenue for beach cleanup, local schools, parks and other social programs. The Times repeats the developer's false claim that these benefits will total $3 million per year. In fact, the owners are relieved of providing full guarantees after the first year, and the rest of the benefits depend on a booming 80% occupying rate and a three-year-old economic analysis that was prepared when hotels were more profitable than they are now. If the hotel goes bust, the mortgage holder is not required to provide the key public access promises.

Why not turn to general revenue or fees to clean up the beach? Why pay for schools and homeless programs by exploiting public parklands? The "logic" is folly when you consider that environmental resources are limited and the cost of social programs is unending. Why not sell off the rest of the environment to pay for the city's social agenda?

There is no need for what the developer himself calls a "Bel-Air Hotel on the beach." We have a duty to preserve our threatened environment and pay for programs through the open budget process.


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