Facilitators for the “visioning workshop” held last Tuesday by Santa Monica College (SMC) at Barker Hangar for its new Airport Campus found themselves at odds with residents on both the workshop process and the proposed plans.
The purpose of the workshop was to gather comments and suggestions from residents on the Master Plan.
The college bought the 10.4-acre site at 3171 South Bundy Drive from BAE Systems in December, 2001 for $30 million. Thus far, the college has spent over $1 million on alterations to the site, which included burying utility lines, building a sound wall with landscaping on the south side of the property, demolishing a 100,000 square-foot manufacturing building, adding a new driveway from Bundy and barring traffic at the rear entrance to the campus on Stewart Street.
The college has also offered to fund the proposed City of Santa Monica Airport Park, which will be the site of two soccer fields and an off-leash dog park and will be located on land that is now occupied by the college’s shuttle parking lot on the north side of Airport Avenue.
In exchange for funding the park, the college wants the City to allow it to build subterranean parking under the park.
The “visioning” session began with an overview of the college by the facilitators from WWCOT, a Santa Monica planning and architectural firm, after which the participants broke into six groups to discuss four questions posed by the college as a framework to assist the groups to formulate their visions for the campus. The visions were then presented to the group as a whole.
But when the facilitators finished their presentation, some residents immediately expressed anger at the college.
Fifty-year Sunset Park resident Emmelie Hodgin said, “We’ve have spent a half hour listening to you tell us something about Santa Monica, as if we’ve come from Denver, Colorado. We didn’t come here tonight for that. We came to find out what you want to build here and what it’s going to do to our residential streets.” When she finished speaking, she walked out.
Sunset Park resident Mitchell Clarefield asked, “What’s the point of a visioning session without the college allowing the City Council and our elected organizations to develop through the democratic process a way to oversee the college? The college is only asking our advice. You’re not asking if we are in favor of something and, even if we are in favor of something, the college doesn’t have to listen to us. What’s the point of breaking into groups if our voice has no power?”
He then asked if the residents could vote on whether to break into groups. When the facilitator tried to continue, Clarefield called out, “What can we do to make this college smaller? What can we do to reduce traffic?”
Another resident shouted, “We’re being bulldozed.”
Eventually, some of the residents who didn’t walk out participated in the six discussion groups by answering the following four questions. 1) What educational programs and/or amenities can Santa Monica College provide at the Airport Campus to support your community? 2) What traffic and circulation questions/concerns do you have for the SMC Airport Campus traffic consultant? 3) What is your vision for the planned green space within the SMC Airport Campus? 4) What is the single most important issue related to the Airport Campus that you would like for the Santa Monica College to address in future meetings?
The facilitators also presented three possible airport campus layouts. Option A, “Surface Parking,” included two surface parking lots, green space, a renovation of the existing west building and renovation or replacement of the existing east building. Option B, “Collect Surface Parking Into Structured Parking,” consisted of surface parking and green space above single level structured parking, renovation of the west building and renovation or replacement of the east building. Option C, “Shuttle Parking and Surface Parking Consolidated in Parking Structure,” included surface parking, green space, a green above a multi-level structured parking, a renovated west building and replacement of the east building.
Two of the groups chose not to answer any of the questions, but offered suggestions on issues related to the site. As rhe primary concerns of the residents were traffic and parking, some of their recommendations included stand alone activities to minimize traffic, limited growth at the campus to eliminate cut-through traffic, no access on Airport Avenue to 23rd Street, limited traffic on 23rd Street, controls on the speed of cars on residential streets, ample security in the parking structures, and removal of parking structures from the campus with shuttle service to the campus via Bundy to Pico Boulevard.
Other issues that were raised included the poor traffic circulation from north to south in Santa Monica, the need to measure the cumulative impacts from other projects as well as the impacts of the new campus, and studies of the site’s soil for possible contaminants, as the site’s former owner was a defense contractor.
Meeting participants were also concerned that there might be more development after the initial phase and that some of the development would take place on the site’s green spaces.
Several people were also disturbed by the “lack of openness between the College and the community” and the failure of college officials, such as Interim SMC President Tom Donner and Marketing Director Don Girard, to attend the meeting and take questions from residents.
The workshop was held again on Wednesday evening for Mar Vista residents. People who attended that workshop told the Mirror that several college officials were present, including Donner.
In response to questions, Donner said that the college did not want to agree to a deed restriction to keep the Stewart Street gate closed, because it might lower the property’s resale value. He also said that the college was not going to hold classes at the new campus this summer, because that would require access to Airport Avenue, which hadn’t been worked out yet, adding that if the access problem could not be worked out, the college could sell the property at a profit.
Like Santa Monica residents, Mar Vista residents were concerned about increased traffic and parking problems and many complained about the noise generated by Airport campus students playing loud music and making other noise in the parking lot, near Mar Vista homes.
Other issues raised at the Mar Vista workshop were excessive noise from the campus, the addition of Emeritus classes and a community room at the new campus, and permanent closure of the Stewart Street gate — except during emergencies.
WWCOT will review and analyze the information collected from both workshops and post the findings at www.smc.edu/facilities_airport, as well as develop site plan alternatives based on the community input.
Another meeting will be held to present and discuss the site plan alternatives. It will be followed by a third meeting at which an Airport Campus Site Plan will be unveiled.