The Bixby Park Gem You Might Not Get: Hotel Union Appeals Development Project • Long Beach Post

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This is Part I of a two-part series; for Part II, click here.

Imagine a gorgeously constructed hotel and condominium complex, harkening to the mid-mod tastes of Edward Killingsworth and Cliff May while maintaining a classic contemporary approach with living green walls, sleek pools and wading spaces, an utterly chill interweaving of levels and accessibility points, and (should the breakwater ever be destroyed) impeccable coastal views of the Pacific’s waves.

The development is not just pretty, but needed on a multitude of levels: economically, developmentally, aesthetically. So why has a boutique hotel situated at the corner of Ocean and Cherry received such backlash from a hotel union, HOAs, and Councilmember Suja Lowenthal?

At first, Lowenthal wasn’t a detractor but large supporter of the development—after all, it’d be hard to deny the owners of the Beach Plaza Hotel an upgrade to their facilities to not only take advantage of one of the very few coastline hotel views but also better the neighborhood while creating additional residences. Good for business, good for better living. We are, after all, talking about the “hotel” where Blow was filmed at.

Beach Plaza originally planned a development that would include a 40-key hotel with 56 condos. However, Studio 111 worked with the owners to create a modified design: 72 hotel keys with 33 condos that, according to Principal Michael Bohn, asked for no variance complied with the Local Coastal Plan (LCP).

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“The benefits of this modified project includes greater onsite coastal views and amenities,” said Bohn. “Views now include Catalina Island and the Newport Coast where as the entitled design only had the Newport Coast view. Added amenities include a beach level cafe and bike rental facility to serve folks along the bike path. In addition, we’ve added a restaurant with outdoor dining that includes coastline views. Adding another 32 rooms will also increase public access to the site.”

Enter Unite Here! Local 11—y’know, the hotel union that asked the Long Beach community last year to boycott an HIV/AIDS fundraiser that was being held at a hotel because they were in disputes with the hotel administration (gotta love that logic: we cannot, for one single instance, put our dispute aside in order to raise money for H-I-V). They appealed the development, citing that not only would parking spaces be lost (oh, the horror: tear down a tree and put up a parking lot…), but that affordable tourist accommodations would hinder accessibility to the beach. This prompted the development to be brought to the City Council.

The union’s opposition was shot down and with the backing of both the mayor and the Council, the project was set to move forth. However, the union appealed once again—this time to the California Coastal Commission (CCC), citing violations of the LCP. The LCP protects motels, or affordable accommodations, along the coast to rightfully provide low-income persons with accommodations in places they would otherwise never be able to afford.

“As members of the Long Beach community, Unite Here! Local 11 supports development that comports with our community’s standards of development and due process, and that adheres to environmental and Coastal Act policies,” said Melanie Luthern of Unite Here to Longbeachize. “Responsible development is the most beneficial development for Long Beach.”

Lowenthal even used this reference not only in a letter to the CCC opposing the project but openly in comment to Longbeachize, stating she “was not aware of the distinction between a hotel and motel in the LCP.”

However, Michael Murchison—a consultant who has represented the project in the hopes of getting it off the ground—smells foul play.

“The blunt reality is that Unite Here! is appealing for one reason and one reason only: they don’t want non-union hotels in Long Beach because it makes them lose power and control,” Murchison said. “It’s not good for development and it certainly isn’t good for Long Beach.”

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His theory isn’t too far off: Longbeachize obtained an email sent to Murchison from Union Here! Research Analyst Rachel Torres, where Torres offered Murchison an agreement which states that should Beach Plaza’s new development go union with Unite Here, “the Union will immediately withdraw appeal. The Union will support the project and encourage other appellants to support the project.”

“If it talks like blackmail and smells like blackmail,” Murchison said. “Well…”

Murchison’s point becomes even more solid considering the appeal Unite Here! just sent to the CCC: it has not a mention that it had already offered the owners of Beach Plaza a peace offering should the owners simply go union, making their fight for affordable accommodations along the coast seem far less genuine. Even more, they fail to mention how the owners of Beach Plaza are willing to pay in lieu feeds of over $1.3M that will be added to a fund that will eventually finance affordable waterfront accommodations such as a youth hostel.

Oh, who cares about that?

While the modified design faces the CCC for a vote this Friday in Santa Barbara, the original 40-key, 56-condo design is an entitled project—meaning no one, including the CCC, can step on it. It is what Bohn calls a “CCC drama-free” development. But the fact that they can build that version tomorrow doesn’t negate many of the other concerns.

“The current hotel is less than 50% occupied with a large percentage of visitors actually oil workers employed on the oil islands,” Bohn said. “The additional hotel keys will provide increased bed-tax helping the City with an expanded tax base. The modified design better serves the community, coastal objectives, City of Long Beach, and the client. It’s difficult for me to understand why anyone wouldn’t support the design.”

Renderings courtesy of Studio 111.

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