Santa Monica Council Bars Tougher Rules for Gas Stations, Car Dealers
A zoning plan that would curb commercial development in many areas of Santa Monica could cause gas stations and car dealerships to leave town and needs to be rewritten, the City Council has decided.
A scarcity of gasoline stations in the city and a potential loss of tax revenue from automobile dealerships prompted the council to reject tougher requirements that city planners had proposed for the two businesses.
City Manager John Jalili, surprised by the council decision, noted that Santa Monica usually has not been interested in encouraging the opening of more gas stations.
“Now we don’t have any place to buy gas, so we’re interested,” council member Christine Reed said.
Since 1981, when city officials approved an ordinance requiring gas station owners to replace leaking underground steel tanks with fiberglass double-walled tanks, 11 of the city’s gas stations have closed, said Jennifer Stone, the city’s toxic chemicals coordinator.
But city planner Suzanne Frick said increasing land values rather than the city ordinance are responsible for the demise of gas stations.
Whatever the reason, the number of gas stations has dwindled to about 20 stations serving an estimated 74,000 licensed drivers in Santa Monica, city officials said.
Reed said the requirements in the zoning plan could send out a message that gas stations are not wanted in Santa Monica.
Under the zoning proposal, new or renovated gas stations would have been required to provide three parking spaces for each service bay, a parking space for each gas pump and one for each 200 square feet of the station’s floor area.
During a study session last week, the council directed city staff to redraft the zoning requirements for gas stations and auto dealerships.
While the city does not want to encourage new automobile dealerships to settle in Santa Monica, “we don’t want the ones that are here to leave the city,” Reed said.
Last year, Santa Monica’s 18 automobile dealerships paid about $5 million in local sales tax, according to Ron Cole of the state Board of Equalization.
Under the proposed zoning plan, new and remodeled dealerships would have been required to increase the number of off-street parking spaces and to unload car shipments on the agency’s premises instead of in the street.
Robert Kramer, owner of Kramer Motors, told the council during its study session last week that it would be difficult for dealers to comply with the proposed loading requirements. “You can’t do it on-site when you have a 100-foot-by-150-foot lot,” he said.
Kramer said car shipments have been unloaded on four-lane streets next to dealerships for years with few problems, adding that transports can unload seven to nine cars in about 20 minutes by using the center lanes or left-turn lanes of the street.
It’s efficient and allows traffic to flow in each direction, he said.
But Kramer said the most objectionable part of the zoning proposal was a provision that would have negated an earlier agreement between the city and auto dealers.
Under the city’s general plan, adopted in 1984, dealers are allowed to use privately owned vehicle storage lots in residential areas for 20 years. The zoning proposal would have required them to vacate the lots within five years.
Reed said the zoning proposal would have forced dealers to find additional storage space in one of Santa Monica’s commercial districts or go outside the city.
Space Hard to Find
“Do we really want them to leave?” she asked fellow council members.
Mark Harding, owner of Santa Monica Ford, contended that it is almost impossible to find space anywhere in the city. The new plan “is attacking us on three or four sides,” he said.
And Kramer said it is very tough to build parking spaces under existing Santa Monica zoning regulations.
For the past two years Kramer has unsuccessfully tried to win city approval for a four-story building that would house an underground auto service center, customer and employee parking and vehicle storage space, he said.
Although his plan is in compliance with existing regulations, Kramer said he still has not received Planning Commission approval. Action was delayed because neighboring property owners filed suit in an attempt to stop the project.
According to Mayor James Conn, few dealers could own enough property to meet the plan’s parking requirements. “These are standards that are impractical,” he said.
The City Council did endorse regulations that prohibit outdoor loud speakers, restrict outdoor lighting and require additional landscaping on the dealer’s lots.
In other action concerning the zoning proposal, the council endorsed regulations that would:
Prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages at gas station mini-markets and small neighborhood stores.
Limit video arcades (including pinball machines) to one commercial zone in the city and require at least one adult supervisor to monitor the machines from a raised dais.
Prohibit new movie theaters in all but one downtown commercial district.
A public hearing on the zoning plan has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 1685 Main St.