The Santa Monica City Council held a special meeting on Tuesday, April 7, at which community turnout was relatively low, with the council chambers filling to less than half capacity. Many stakeholders who showed up were there to voice support for the creation of an urban forest master plan task force, or to back a hike in the city’s base payment on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s Master Facilities Use Agreement. The Council unanimously supported both measures, the latter of which also included a three-year extension of the master facilities use agreement. The current base payment by the City to the SMMUSD is $7,494,503. With the approval of city staff’s recommendations, the City will pay $7,644,393 next fiscal year. Staff is currently formulating next year’s budget and will incorporate the new amount into the 2009-2010 budget and 2010-2011 budget plan. Council will formally appropriate funds with the 2009-2010 budget adoption on June 16.The five-year Master Facilities Use Agreement calls for an adjustment conference in January 2009 to assess the state of the community use of district facilities, the fiscal status of the City and the district and whether to recommend that the agreement be extended for an additional three year period, through June 2012. Officials from the City and the district met over the last three months to review each entity’s fiscal conditions and budgetary challenges, including the challenges facing each as a result of the unprecedented economic downturn and state budget reductions. With education funds being slashed severely at the state level, the Council said that the staff recommendation to extend the agreement and increase the City’s payment was sound. A concern about the payment hike was voiced mainly by Councilmembers Bobby Shriver and Bob Holbrook, both of whom supported the extension and increase, but cautioned against cutting public safety and other departmental funding as a result. When asked by Shriver what cuts would have to be made to facilitate the new school district funding, City Manager P. Lamont Ewell was unable to provide specifics. Councilmember Gleam Davis was particularly vocal about education funding being a number one priority, saying lack of sufficient funding could be tantamount to a public safety problem. A half dozen members of Santa Monica Tree Savers and other residents took to the podium in support of the formulation of an urban forest master plan task force, which the Council supported unanimously. The task force will focus on the development of the urban forest master plan, making recommendations on the strategic goals, objectives, implementation measures, and timeline for achievement. The task force will assist staff throughout the plan’s development. It will consist of seven community members and current City commissioners are invited to apply. On the topic of exercise on the 4th Street median at Adelaide Drive, the Council unanimously supported staff’s recommendations to explore several measures to restrict commercial and group use of the space and limit access to the stairs, which people use for exercise, during night time hours. Also, the staff will look into grant opportunities for creating stairs at Palisades Park with possible access to the Annenberg Community Beach House. A request by Shriver that the homeless update on next meeting’s agenda be scheduled close to 8:00pm so it may be heard on the radio broadcast was approved 4-2. The next meeting will be held April 14.
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