The Santa Monica City Council has denied an appeal that would have halted the construction of a 19-unit condominium project at 1433-1437 14th St., the former home of Crescent Bay Convalescent Hospital.
The Planning Commission approved development permits for the project in October after the applicant — 1433-1437 14th Street LLC — modified the project design and made it more compatible with the immediate neighborhood, as requested by the Planning Commission in June.
The project design has undergone multiple revisions “in response to staff concerns regarding mass and height relative to adjacent properties, apparent massing from the street, lack of openness and pedestrian orientation,” said Eileen Fogarty, the city’s director of planning and community development.
A neighbor, Elaine Antonio, appealed the Planning Commission’s decision.
In her appeal, Antonio said that the proposed condominium building was too big for the neighborhood and that the project would cause traffic congestion.
However, the building design is under the maximum allowable height and the Planning Commission agreed with city staff that the overall building massing is appropriate for the site, Fogarty said.
Also, the Environmental Analysis found that the project would not result in any significant traffic impacts, Fogarty said.
In her appeal, Antonio also said that there is a need for the convalescent care center, which closed in November and is expected to be demolished.
“There are not enough nursing homes left in Santa Monica,” Antonio said. “I believe we’re losing them rapidly and pretty soon there won’t be any. And this was a particularly good one.”
Although the convalescent care center is closed, Councilman Kevin McKeown pointed out that the Planning Commission has initiated a new study on the need for convalescent care in Santa Monica. The study is under way and not complete, McKeown said.
Antonio also claimed that the public process was circumvented by the developer, who allegedly made a death threat to a person opposed to the project.
Antonio and several neighbors were concerned about Santa Monica losing nursing homes, so they decided to write letters to the city opposing the condominium project.
“One of my neighbors sent in their letter a week earlier than the rest of us,” Antonio said. “That neighbor received a phone call from someone that said they were the developer of the project. They did not name themselves, but they had a Middle Eastern accent. That person who claimed they were the developer said that if my neighbor did not rescind their letter, that they would be killed. And they said it three times to them and then spit into the phone.”
The neighbor who received the alleged death threat called the Planning Department and rescinded the letter.
The City Attorney’s office was contacted about the allegations, as was the Santa Monica Police Department. An investigation was conducted, but there was insufficient evidence to warrant any further law enforcement activity, Fogarty said. Also, the victim of the alleged threat was unwilling to make a statement.
City Attorney Marsha Moutrie said she spoke to the Santa Monica Police Department, which confirmed that the alleged victim appeared frightened.
“I tried to convince the neighbor who received the death threats to come forward, but unfortunately, death threats can be extremely effective,” said Antonio. “And when people receive them, they believe them. Citizens should be able to participate in their government without fear of reprisal.”
Kevin Kozal, the developer’s attorney, said he had heard nothing before then about the death threat.
“I have absolutely no knowledge of any of those threats being made,” Kozal said. “The appeal did not set forth any partic- ulars. Tonight is the first time we have heard information about that. It’s hearsay; there’s no direct evidence.”
Several councilmembers seemed concerned.
“The allegations are very disturbing,” said McKeown.
“There is no place for threats in the public process in Santa Monica or anywhere else, as far as I’m concerned,” Councilman Bob Holbrook said. “I’ve had threats personally since I’ve been a member of the council and I don’t think I took them seriously, but I can tell you that my family did.”
Mayor Herb Katz thanked Antonio for her courage to speak out.
“We will do everything we can to see this doesn’t happen again,” Katz said.
McKeown made a motion to direct staff — to the extent possible — to further investigate the allegations and return to the council with suggested procedures to use, should a similar situation arise in the future.
Antonio’s appeal was unanimously denied by the City Council.
“I don’t mean to be insensitive to the issues that were raised by the appellant because I think they are serious and I think we need to take them seriously, but I don’t think this is the context in which we can do it,” said Councilman Ken Genser. “So I’ll move that we reject the appeal and uphold the decision of the Planning Commission.”
With the appeal being denied and the Planning Commission’s approval upheld, the applicant has the go-ahead to start construction of the three-story, 35-foot-high, 27,550-square-foot, condominium complex that includes a central courtyard with a fountain, landscaping and a 42-space subterranean garage.