When Hotels Collide

I suppose I should be flattered that the owners of the Miramar Hotel felt that including a seven-year-old quote from me about the Annenberg Beach House might help them in their battle royale with the Huntley Hotel, but I’ll decline the honor.

It’s not that I don’t find it ironic that Latham & Watkins, known as the toughest real estate development law firm in Southern California, has been retained to scuttle a real estate development (I even joked about this in a blog post last month), but I wish the Miramar had left my name off what is one of the most unpleasant and misbegotten political mailers in Santa Monica history.

No thanks, but I’d rather not be associated with a piece that makes the owner of the Huntley look like the FBI’s most-wanted terrorist. And surely it’s counter-productive for one developer to accuse another of greed.

But I can understand if the Miramar people are feeling a bit frustrated, because the Huntley’s consultant, Sue Burnside, has been turning Miramar opponents out in droves to public meetings, the latest being the City Council meeting Tuesday night. That was on the motion by three councilmembers to table action on any project proposing a tall building until after the adoption of the Downtown Specific Plan (DSP).

Speaking of irony, this proposed measure, which was promoted as a means of calming the waters, caused another two or three hours of storm-tossed seas.

I was torn by the proposal. I agree with the three councilmembers proposing it (Kevin McKeown, Ted Winterer and Tony Vazquez) that in an ideal world it would be better to make intellectually pure decisions about issues like height before anybody proposed a project, but we don’t live in an ideal world, and in the real world, until and unless someone proposes a tall project, we probably wouldn’t even think about the issue.

Moreover, as someone who hasn’t made up his mind about whether we should relax our 30-year-old limitations on heights, I like the idea of seeing the proposed projects first, because they provide context for the decision-making. Ted Winterer had a good point that the process could create its own momentum towards approval, but I’d risk that for the chance to see what people have in mind.

In any case, no decisions will be made until council adopts the DSP.

Politically, the crux of the issue was summarized in Kevin McKeown’s comment, after agreeing to support Gleam Davis’ motion to poll residents on their views about height, that, “I will be supporting this motion, although I think it would have been better, faster, easier and cheaper to just listen to our constituents.”

What McKeown might have said, to be more accurate, was that the council should have listened to his constituents, because the proposal highlighted the fact that the councilmembers, even the six who owe their political success to their having been endorsed by Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR), do not share all the same constituencies.

Look at the election last November. The two leading candidates, Ted Winterer and Terry O’Day, each polled about the same number of votes (17,604 for Winterer and 17,042 for O’Day); although SMRR (and other organizations) endorsed them both and to a great extent their support overlapped, anyone who knows anything about politics here knows that Winterer probably received five or six thousand anti-development votes and O’Day probably received about the same number from voters opposed to anti-development policies.

If you look at the 2012 election at the margin between victory and defeat, which was all about who won the contested fourth seat, the issue of constituencies is even more complicated. Tony Vazquez won the seat and he ran outside of the development/anti-development issue. He wasn’t supported by the developers’ pop-up organization, Santa Monicans United for a Responsible Future, and the anti-development forces didn’t support him either – he wasn’t on the slate of Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City and he didn’t receive financial support from the Huntley through their pop-up organization, Santa Monicans for Responsible Growth. Indeed, the anti-development faction so suspected him of being in favor of development that they prevented him from receiving an endorsement from the SMRR membership or the Santa Monica Democratic Club, two of his natural constituencies.

Instead, Vazquez won because he was known for having been a councilmember in the ’90s and he had endorsements from SMRR, the County Democratic Party, and, crucially, Unite-HERE, the hotel workers’ union, which walked precincts for him. While land-use politics garner most of the attention and generate most of the heat in Santa Monica, they’ve rarely been decisive with the voters.

I bring this up because it might lower the frustration and anger level if people acknowledge that just because they are willing to come late at night to a City Council meeting to protest, that doesn’t mean that the councilmembers, who know who elected them, will necessarily consider them as representing anyone other than themselves.

Call it once again the difference between the real world and someone’s ideal.

Thanks for reading.

3 thoughts on “When Hotels Collide

  1. Polling voters on their views about height restrictions is seemingly a good idea, but let me design the questionnaire and I can assure any result you want. The questionnaire should ideally include plans for the three hotels being proposed and pros and cons for letting some or all proceed. If the hotel promoters are smart, they will get their plans out to the public before any poll. Personally, I think the plans to replace the former Holiday Inn look great and understand that the city has asked them to upgrade their building. The Gehry project needs more publicity. The Miramar design looks ugly, so they need to get their act together. We had dinner at the Huntley last weekend; a mediocre building that would not be seriously hurt by a Miramar Tower.

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