Santa Monica Councilman Says He Will Back Builder

Times Staff Writer

A Santa Monica city councilman who has bitterly opposed developer Al Ehringer on several occasions has apparently decided to lend the builder his support in a dispute over a Main Street property.

Word of the Rev. James Conn's decision has angered his supporters who have counted on his help in fighting Main Street development.

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, Conn says, he will appeal a Planning Commission decision requiring Ehringer to reserve 3,000 square feet of space in a building on the south end of Main Street for retail businesses to serve the neighborhood.

The commission had originally approved a 50-seat restaurant on May 21. When Ehringer proposed a 130-seat restaurant in October, the commission, after postponing the decision for two weeks, voted to require the 3,000 square feet of neighborhood shops.

Such shops are required frequently in Santa Monica to offset businesses such as restaurants that serve mostly tourists.

Ehringer said that he objects to providing so much ground-floor space for neighborhood retail shops.

Enter Conn, who asserts that the Planning Commission did not treat the developer fairly.

Conn and Ehringer have often been on the opposite sides of the fence. They had some bitter battles in the 1970s over the future of Main Street in Santa Monica. Ehringer wanted commercial growth; Conn didn't.

At one point, Ehringer's Ocean Park Omelet Parlor took Conn's name off an omelet made of spinach, mushrooms and Swiss cheese.

"I was de-egged," Conn recalled. "These things happen. There was a time in which the street was (changing) rapidly. I was one of the people opposing the (change) and I was doing it in public. There was some real conflict."

Ehringer even filed a libel action against Conn for something the Ocean Park minister wrote in a weekly column. The suit has since been settled and Ehringer has donated material to fix the roof at Conn's Church in Ocean Park.

The developer insists there is nothing unusual about Conn's appeal. He said that he has contributed to the Church in Ocean Park because of the church's social services. "I've been on the same side of the fence as Jim on a lot of issues," he said.

"There are issues that come along," Conn said. "You have to look at every issue separately. . . . I am concerned about what the Planning Commission did because it's bad public policy."

Conn said he is challenging the Planning Commission's decision because the commission imposed the 3,000-square-foot condition at the last minute and because the planning director should not have the responsibility of deciding what kinds of neighborhood shops should go in the development.

He also said the Planning Commission ignored a negotiated agreement between the developer and the Ocean Park Community Organization, which Conn helped organize at the end of the 1970s.

According to Conn, organization representatives and the developer had agreed that Ehringer would strive to allot 4,500 square feet of the total development to neighborhood shops and would spend $10,000 to hire a leasing agent to find neighborhood retailers.

But Planning Commissioner Ken Genser, a resident in the area, said that a satisfactory agreement had never been worked out.

"Ehringer negotiated with the community at the very last second, and it was only because the Planning Commission was not giving in," Genser said. "They came up with something that really didn't do anything."

Word of Conn's appeal angered some residents in Ocean Park who sometimes count on Conn as an ally against Ehringer's Main Street projects.

"People that I've talked to are pretty upset about the appeal," said Dora Ashford, a member of the Ocean Park Community Organization, which is housed in a building on church land.

"It came as such a surprise because (Conn) not only decided to do it, but he (also) did not talk to us first about it. . . . We thought Ehringer would appeal. But no one would think that (Conn) would do it on his behalf."

Planning Director Paul Silvern has recommended that the City Council replace the commission's decision with a new plan now being negotiated.

Ehringer said that the Planning Commission has not played fairly. "They are welshing on a plan that had been developed by the community, (the developer) and the city," Ehringer said. "The issue is, 'Do you stand by your word?' "

The project, which is also in the City of Los Angeles, would be between Navy and Marine streets on the west side of Main. The restaurant would be run by the operators of the Famous Enterprise Fish Co. two blocks north on Main Street.

Ehringer's business has expanded far beyond Santa Monica. Grand American Fare Inc., of which he is a major stockholder, operates coffee shops and bars in about 40 places in the Western United States and employs 3,500 people.

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