Neighbors of the former Marion Davies estate (415 PCH), which the City is in the process of restoring and rehabbing for use by the public, met with City officials Monday evening at the Beach Club to express their opposition to the project. The five-acre beachfront estate was built in the late 1920s by newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst for his longtime mistress, actress Marion Davies. Designed by architect Julia Morgan, who also designed San Simeon for Hearst, the estate had more than 100 rooms, a large and lavish main house, guesthouses, a swimming pool, tennis courts and a dog kennel. Some of the original buildings, including the main house, were demolished in the 1940s, when the property was converted into a hotel. At that time, a locker building and cabanas were added.In 1959, the State of California assumed ownership of the property and assigned its management to the City of Santa Monica. From 1960 to 1990, it was leased by the Sand and Sea Club, and from 1991-1993 it was operated by the City of Santa Monica. Damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, it was shut down, and has remained shuttered for ten years.Back on the Beach, a café, is located on the southern edge of the site.Late last year, the City received a $21 million grant from the Annenberg Foundation for the preservation, restoration and reuse of the historic site.The schematic design, which was recently approved by the City Council, features the estate’s original swimming pool, a new pool deck, a new children’s water play area and a new two-story pool house – with changing rooms, lockers, and offices on the first floot and a recreation room on the second floor.According to the staff report, the beach area will be “organized by two main boardwalks,” and will have beach volleyball and paddle tennis courts, a small beach concession building and a children’s play area. A new event house “accommodate up to 200 guests at public and private functions,” will house a catering kitchen, restrooms and elevators. viewing deck and community room.” The adjacent event court will be “a paved area shaded by a grove of trees.” The Davies’ estate original north house will be rehabbed, with the ground floor “dedicated to interpretive and cultural programming for visitors, meeting spaces, a small kitchen and other office functions.” While the upper level will include space for meeting rooms. A new terrace garden will “provide an intimately scaled location for small outdoor gatherings.” Finally, Back on the Beach will be retained and “280 parking spaces will be provided on two lots connected by the existing frontage driveway.” The existing 162 parking spaces will be retained. A traffic signal on PCH has been proposed. The schematic design was periodically reviewed at a series of public workshops, but the residents at the meeting, most of whom own houses on the beach, alleged that their input was ignored and the proposed project jeopardizes their quality of life. High on their agenda is the question of whether a traffic light would be installed on PCH at 415 to accommodate cars entering and exiting the site.One beach homeowner asked City officials, “How many fatalities are you willing to accept to have a beach club on an annual basis?” Other homeowners were concerned that site 415 visitors would “be lining up in their cars in front of our houses…so we wouldn’t be able to get into our houses without a light.” The City’s Director of the Community and Cultural Affairs Department, Barbara Stinchfield said that the City and everyone involved with the project believes a “traffic light is very essential to the operation of this site.” City Attorney Marsha Moutrie pointed out “whether a light is put in or not is not up to the City. It’s up to Caltrans.”The beach homeowners also suggested that the project violates Proposition S (which was passed by voters in 1990) as it would prohibit 200 cars from coming to this facility. Stinchfield responded that Proposition S “prioritizes coastal recreation. Most of the traffic that’s generated on the weekend is for public beach recreation and is a priority that is included in Proposition S. Scenarios that allow social events would not be on [summer] weekends.” Neighbors also claimed that lighting on the site would disturb them. Stinchfield said that the City aims to “balance keeping the lights low with targeted lighting like for the restrooms because restrooms are a draw for people who use them for purposes for which they weren’t intended.”One neighbor suggested the elimination of all parking at the site, but Stinchfield explained that would not be possible. “The Costal Commission will ask that parking not be reduced on the site … but we are looking at shuttles.” Another question raised by the neighbors was that this site would “become the most attractive home to the homeless in the entire United States.” Stinchfield explained that, in fact, the City has learned that when it “enlivens a site” with activities, homeless people are deterred. Stinchfield went on to say that an item in the proposed operating budget includes “full time night time security with overlapping shifts and surveillance cameras.” During the day, there will be two contact people and one of them will have park ranger ranking and will be “constantly out on the site to monitor activities.” There may also be an on-site manager who would encourage “a safe, clean environment.” Other security measures will include fences and gates.The prospect of on-site events, with food service that includes liquor, also disturbed the neighbors. Stinchfield said that 415’s primary uses would be “recreation during the summer and it would be looked at differently in the winter.” She also noted that the type of uses would determine the amount of the City’s subsidy. Some residents suggested that, over the long hail, the City wouldn’t be able to afford the site’s operating and maintenance costs and it would eventually deteriorate. Stinchfield responded that the City was looking at ways to sustain healthy site revenue. Some residents said they thought the site should be developed as an aquatic center, which they feel would generate revenue. Stinchfield responded “The Annenberg grant is not based on an aquatic facility.” People also complained that the existing pool wasn’t suitable for lap swimming. Stinchfield explained that as it was “historic,” the City wants to keep it. Other concerns included how effectively policies designed for the site will be enforced, school buses bringing children to the site and site visitors walking to the ocean at night.One homeowner suggested that a City commission or board that would include residents should be established to oversee the administration of the site.The City Council will discuss the project again on February 28.
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