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City , SMC at Odds Over Access:

Following a lengthy discussion last Tuesday, Santa Monica’s City Council voted to extend pedestrian access to Santa Monica College’s (SMC) new Bundy Campus from Santa Monica Airport and asked City staff to analyze SMC’s other proposals on access to the campus, which is located in Los Angeles, just south of Santa Monica Airport on Centinela Avenue, but has no direct access to Airport Avenue.

The College purchased the 10-acre campus from BAE Systems in December, 2001 for $30 million and has, thus far, spent $15 million renovating the property. It has 609 parking spaces on-site, with an additional 80 spaces cited in the SMC long-range Master Plan.

Currently, only disabled persons and faculty members are permitted to park in the campus lot. Programs now offered at the site include nursing, education, continuing and community education and some general education courses.

SMC’s entire access proposal was approved the night before the Council session by the SMC Board of Trustees at a meeting called in response to a City staff report on the issue.

According to the City staff report, “in June, 2005, the City and SMC entered into an agreement that provided temporary pedestrian access to the Bundy Campus from Santa Monica Airport for the summer session” which ends on August 11. “SMC completed improvements under the agreement that facilitated the permitted pedestrian access to the campus from an Airport lot leased to the College for shuttle parking.” But SMC planned to continue operations at this site in the fall and requested that the agreement be extended through the fall semester, which begins on August 29, and asked that the City “provide for vehicle as well as pedestrian access from Airport Avenue.”

The staff report went on to say that “it is reasonable to extend the temporary pedestrian access agreement until October 15, but construction of the Airport Park commences November 1 after which date SMC parking for the Bundy Campus cannot be accommodated at the Airport….the fall session student population using the shuttle service and attending classes at the Bundy campus is significantly greater than that for the summer session. There are not enough parking spaces in the Airport lot to accommodate both the College shuttle service demand and the Bundy Campus parking demand. Consequently, the College must make interim arrangements for shuttle parking for the fall session and use the lot it currently leases from the Airport solely for those attending classes at the Bundy Campus prior to the execution of an extension of the pedestrian access agreement.”

Another recommendation in the City staff report was “that the City, the City of Los Angeles and SMC immediately commence discussions to cooperatively identify parking and traffic management solutions for SMC operations system-wide.”

The College Board’s substitute proposal would give SMC vehicle and pedestrian access from its Bundy Campus directly to Airport Avenue from August 20, 2005, to August 19, 2006 to help “avoid significant hardship to our students.” This access would come with the following conditions:

a. The College shall pay for all roadway improvements necessary to provide access. During construction of roadway improvements, access shall be provided through one of the gates used by BAE Systems [the past owner of the site].

b. The College shall pay $1,000,000 to the City as the College’s mitigation share for planned improvements along Airport Avenue.

c. The City shall restrict left turns onto Airport Avenue from vehicles exiting the Bundy Campus during such hours of College use, as the City deems appropriate. Public transportation vehicles shall be exempt from such left turn restrictions.

d. The College shall relocate its existing Airport shuttle in time so as to not delay the start of construction of the Airport Park.

In addition, the College proposed that “the City and College shall continue to meet to discuss cooperative measures to reduce traffic from College operations [and] upon adoption by the Board of Trustees of the master plan for the Bundy Campus, the College shall meet to discuss an extension of the access agreement.”

Before the Council vote, Mayor Pro Tem Herb Katz told his colleagues “I’m tired of hearing who is at fault. I think this proposal coming out of the College has merits as a pilot program. I think it needs to have cooperation from our City and the City of Los Angeles and we need to do it now. Education is primary. Everything else in this whole discussion in my opinion is secondary.”

Both Katz’s comments and the Council vote reflected the range of opinions expressed during the lengthy public input portion of the meeting. College Board Trustee member Susan Aminoff told the Council “the College proposal contains the notion of a pilot project. I’m a social scientist and a fan of pilot projects. They test hypotheses. Why would you want to continue to block access when blocking such access does not allow us to evaluate the impact of traffic on Airport Avenue?”

Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District School Board member Oscar De La Torre stated, “There are a lot of other consequences that come from not providing educational opportunities that are much worse than traffic. We must keep in mind we need to keep open the doors of educational opportunity.”

College consultant former Mayor Denny Zane stressed to the Council “the College believes it is solving traffic problems with this proposal. The suggestion, of course, to limit left turns on Airport Avenue would in fact prevent from the College going to the 23rd Street corridor.”

Council member Ken Genser asked Interim SMC College President Tom Donner, “Why is there frustration from the College when they purchased the property four years ago and are only now beginning to discuss with the City access across City property to a private road of the City? Why would any entity think that there is an entitlement to that?”

Donner responded, “For tens and tens of years, access for a defense contractor going across from Airport Avenue into BAE was never a problem for the City of Santa Monica. But now that an educational institution is taking up residence and offering classes there the City has decided to deny access that before they gave freely.”

Friends of Sunset Park (FOSP) Board member Eric Gabster pointed out “that when the [BAE] property was for sale, descriptions of the property stated ‘legal access to Airport Avenue is not assured.’ We find it hard to imagine that the purchase of such a property would not have triggered serious considerations about that limitation and future use of the site.”

Carole Currey, Chair of the SMC Board of Trustees, said that her Board objected to the City staff report because it “greatly obstructs the College from fulfilling its mission of education and furthermore it adds new conditions” to hammering out an access agreement.

The College’s Academic Senate President Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein stated that in the Senate’s view “it appears the staff report in essence is an attempt to shrink the College.”

Airport Commissioner Susan Hartley reminded the Council that on June 27 the Commission passed a recommendation that access and egress to the Bundy satellite campus to the Aiport be restricted until such time as Santa Monica College staff submits to the City a detailed master plan for the Bundy satellite campus and associated analysis of the full project, including all environmental impacts reports of the actual uses proposed by SMC.” It also wants “SMC and the City to enter into an enforceable access agreement” that FOSP President Zina Josephs stated her board supports.

Earlier in the meeting, Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose district surrounds Santa Monica, told the Council that “the only solution acceptable to my constituents” is that students using the Bundy Campus have access from Airport Avenue and that he and others would be “chained to the Stewart gate [which is located in Mar Vista] if the College tries to open it for access to the Bundy Campus.”

In the end only four Council members voted to extend the pedestrian access agreement, as Council members Bobby Shriver and Richard Bloom had left the meeting early and Kevin McKeown was absent.The City staff analysis of the proposal may return to the Council for its review by August 9.

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