Santa Monicans have before them a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a public beach club on the site of the former Marion Davies Estate at 415 PCH. It has been inspiring to see so many in our community put aside differences to seize it.
As something of a City Hall-watcher myself, and someone who has opposed several proposals by Santa Monica City staff, I’ve been very impressed with the staff’s earnest efforts to accommodate neighbors. Those neighbors have raised legitimate concerns regarding the immediate and longer-term impacts of a City-run beach club. Virtually all of those concerns – even by the neighbors’ own accounts – have been mitigated in the current proposal.
But as is so often the case, an overzealous few threaten to destroy a good compromise. It seems that because the City has been so accommodating in providing mitigations, a small a group of four or five neighbors might end up pushing the compromise off a cliff and even lose some of the fought-for mitigations for all the neighbors.
This tiny group of neighbors is threatening to sue unless the City of Santa Monica signs a legal contract with them, guaranteeing that the facility will be operated according to the agreed mitigations, forever.
At first glance, this may seem reasonable; however, it is anything but. In fact, the neighbors have been unable to cite a single example of any nearby city, much less Santa Monica, signing such a contract with a small group of private residents over such operational issues…not even for a homeless shelter, a trash dump or an airport, much less a world-class public beach facility.
It might help to recap what is proposed for the site. We are talking about a $30 million beach club. Yes, with a swimming pool, volleyball courts, paddle tennis, a garden terrace, locker rooms, a small event facility, a children’s play area, picnic tables and much, much more, including 24-hour on-site security. (For more information on the project visit www.friendsof415.org.)
Most residents in Santa Monica would sacrifice their first-born child to have such a facility in their neighborhoods. I, for one, wish it was closer to my home!
And if the beach club’s many amenities weren’t enough of a selling point, it should be noted that it is designed by one of California’s premier architects, Fred Fisher, who has worked on projects at the Huntington Library, the Long Beach Museum of Art and the stunning headquarters of the Broad Art Foundation, funded by billionaire Eli Broad.
Now, let’s think about what the Fisher-designed jewel will be replacing: a dilapidated, boarded-up, eyesore that has no security other than a chain-link fence. As the knowledgeable local realtor Mike Deasy pointed out at the recent Planning Commission hearing, the current site isn’t exactly an ideal neighbor, and has long been a source of concern for prospective homebuyers.
A beach club is not even new, for the site or the area. 415 PCH was home to the Sand and Sea Club for 30 years until 1990. Additionally, there are two other private beach clubs within a proverbial stone’s throw. Both have proven to be good neighbors and neither have anywhere near the restrictions on operating hours, event size or number of events agreed to by the City for the public beach club.
We should also remember that PCH stands for Pacific Coast Highway. While many of us long for the days when Palisades Beach Road was a simple road, today PCH is an actual highway, with more noise, traffic and pollution than most people could stand. This club isn’t proposed for a secluded, slow-paced residential street – it’s along a six-lane, traffic-jammed quasi-freeway.
What matters most is that reason prevails. It is time for the community to open a dialogue with the neighbors so we can talk, come to understand the uniqueness of the opportunity and agree to something very much like the compromise before us.
This is not an attempt by a private developer or even City Hall to make a profit. This beach club is for all of our community, from the young to the old, from the poor to the rich. It is not merely buildings being proposed, but a legacy from which our community will reap the rich rewards year after year, generation after generation.
Joel Brand is the Chair of Friends of 415, a committee of the Santa Monica Conservancy as well as Vice-President of the Ocean Park Association and a member of the board of the Pier Restoration Corporation.