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The Future of Santa Monica – Part 2:: Local Leaders Discuss the City’s Needs for the Future

The Mirror asked five civic leaders about their views on how Santa Monica has developed and is going to develop over the next 20 or 25 years.  Here is the second  of three installments of responses from City Manager P. Lamont Ewell, City Councilmembers Ken Genser and Kevin McKeown, Architectural Review Board Chair Michael Folonis and property attorney Chris Harding.

 What can we do to increase the amount of green space in the City?

Ewell: We don’t have [much green space] but I think we’re doing a very good job maximizing what we do have.  In the last year and a half, we’ve actually expanded Virginia Avenue Park, refurbished Douglas Park. Palisades Park is undergoing some renovations; we’re adding Euclid Park, which will be a small pocket park; we’re looking at the acquisition of the land we purchased from Fisher Lumber; we’re now looking at expanding Memorial Park. So we’re doing some things, maximizing the available land that we have. We’re just going to have to continue to be creative in that regard.

 Folonis: There’s a lot of land at the Airport that I think is being under-utilized. But the City finally built some green fields over there and some other recreational facilities which I think is great. I think there’s some more space there that can be recaptured for parks. Now does that put the space where it needs to be? It doesn’t. Parks need to be where people live so they can walk to them.

One thing we’ve done – and I’m sure I will offend someone by saying this – is we’ve taken parks for children and adults and made them into parks for dogs. That simply doesn’t make sense to me. The people who whine and groan about how we don’t have enough parks ought to take a look at how we utilize the parks that we currently have. We might make some changes there.

 Genser: The City needs to invest in more open space. I don’t have a lot of suggestions beyond that. We have to continually invest in our tree canopy. We’re generally pretty aggressive in trying to maintain greenery in this City. But we really need that open space. The Civic Center offers a lot of opportunity. There are resources to “green” that.

 Harding: The City needs to continue looking at ways to acquire properties for park expansion. It bought the Fisher Lumber property a few years ago but hasn’t done anything with it. I hope they at least expand Memorial Park. They have the land now – they spent 18 million buying the property – they should prioritize the expansion of the park to incorporate the Fisher Lumber property into the park. They need to take the Civic site and expedite the greening of the Civic Center, which includes half the park space in the central part of the plan between City Hall and Ocean Avenue. It also includes a field at the corner of 4th and Pico, which I’ve heard might be in some sort of jeopardy. I hope it’s not in jeopardy – it’s an important thing to do for the City as a whole and for the high school across the street which needs usable open space. I think the City has to look for park acquisition opportunities. They certainly spend a lot of energy and resources promoting parking downtown. I think they should spend an equal amount of energy promoting park expansion.

 McKeown: Santa Monica is woefully under-parked – unless you include the beach. The beach is there for certain uses but doesn’t serve the function that a neighborhood park does. Historically, Santa Monica developed in ways where the parks were located heavily in certain neighborhoods and missing in others. No resident should be more than one-half a mile from a park, yet my home is and homes in the northern half of the City are.

We have to take action in acquiring [land] and developing new parks. We have not made the final decision but clearly the acquisition of the property adjacent to Memorial Park promises to be parkland once we go through the public process. We’re opening a new park in the Mid-Cities neighborhood and we are going to open a wonderful facility at 415 PCH. But this is all tough going for a city with limited resources, limited land and very expensive real estate.

 How do you see tourism impacting the City’s appearance and how should we accommodate tourism in the future?

Ewell: My hopes are that we will continue to be a location where tourists love to come and visit, because if you look at the profile of our tourism, it’s primarily made up of people who travel from abroad and so they’re not coming in cars. They’re flying in, they’re staying in our hotels. They’re doing a lot of walking to some of our major tourist sights or they’re taking cabs. So they’re not creating the traffic congestion that some people may believe.  But they are certainly adding to the economy. So we’re hoping to continue through the Convention and Visitors Bureau that type of tourist attraction to the City, using people from abroad as opposed to locals who would drive in and add to that traffic congestion.

 Folonis: I think the biggest tourist attraction is the ocean. Once the Third Street Promenade was revitalized, that became a piece of the attraction. But if we don’t necessarily focus our attention on tourism (yes, it is an important element in our economy), but if we continue to develop amenities for the people who live here and these amenities are thought through creatively, they will work for tourists and residents alike.

 Genser: I think tourism has been very good for the community. Generally, tourism is good for the economy and at the same time it’s a relatively low traffic generator. When you bring people in from other locations, they go to hotels. They don’t have the same number of cars – they don’t drive them at peak hours. Tourism provides a lot of jobs. It also provides a lot of tax revenue, which helps us with other programs such as art and social service programs.

I think we have to be careful that we don’t have [tourism] concentrated in certain areas [that] are getting too tourist-oriented. We don’t want to lose that sense of Santa Monica and replace it with a completely visitor-serving atmosphere. There’s room for some growth, but I hope that it will be scattered throughout the City.

 Harding: I personally think having a healthy tourist economy is a good thing for residents. The kinds of amenities that tourists enjoy are the same things that I enjoy.  I was born in Santa Monica so I’ve been here forever. The improvements that the City has to make to attract tourists are appealing to residents as well. Having clean beaches, a good and healthy environment, a safe city, a vibrant downtown with a promenade that is sometimes crowded but for the most part is more appealing than the mall was 30 or 40 years ago when I was a kid. Those improvements matter. I think the City has to be selective in terms of further development. They should be selective about where that development takes place.

 McKeown: The tourism industry has grown up in Santa Monica and in many ways it’s a desirable business to have in town. It does not create tremendous pollution, it is in a fairly small area and it does create a great deal of secondary revenue for other businesses. The difficulty with tourism that’s perceived by many people is that it takes over the community. I don’t know if the perception and the reality match. Many people think the heavy traffic in Santa Monica is due to tourism, when the new office space creates at least 10 times more traffic. In fact, our marketing to visitors has been careful to try to attract people who come from longer distances so they don’t drive. And once they’re in Santa Monica, we provide them with the Tide Shuttle and public transit in the hope they won’t use cars. I think the role of the government in Santa Monica is to work with the hospitality industry to try to reap the benefits of having tourists come here and support our local businesses and limit as best we can the impact on residents.

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