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Santa Monica Zoning Ordinance Update Meetings: Childcare, Cannabis, Cars & Capacity:

Santa Monica City Hall hosted two evenings of heated study sessions this week, with public comment and Council discussion on the proposed Zoning Ordinance Update (ZOU) taking more than 10 hours.

Tuesday April 14 saw more than 140 residents line-up to have their two minutes in front of City Council, speaking on zoning issues that ranged from medical marijuana dispensaries, childcare centers, traffic, development issues, and tiered zoning management.

Wednesday April 15 saw council members discuss the previous night’s action, with Mayor Kevin McKeown calling the proceedings to order by offering a framework for all to adhere to.

“We have decisions to make tonight,” McKeown said, encouraging all council members to stick to the issues.

While council was not voting on ordinances per-say, they did cast opinions on a range of specific directions to City staff who will then take said directions under consideration when preparing the ZOU for first reading, scheduled for May 5.

The first issue up for discussion by council members was childcare centers, the perceived lack of them in Santa Monica, and the inclusion in the ZOU to house more.

While community sentiment raised issues of childcare centers in residential homes and the impact that this could have on neighbors, others highlighted the need for Santa Monicans and commuters to the City to have access to such services.

“How would you feel if you had to work to support your family and could not find quality, affordable, reliable child care?” asked Councilmember Terry O’Day.

City staff proposed modifications to the draft ZOU as the ordinance “would not authorize Child Care and Early Education Facilities in R1 or OP1 Districts.”

“City staff believe adoption of these latter restrictions are inconsistent with the City’s longstanding commitment to early childhood education and the Land Use and Circulation Element adopted goals and policies to integrate child care and early education in to the city’s land use policies,” they stated.

City staff found issue that: 1. Childcare and early education facilities within or adjacent to residential districts and large family day care should be allowed to have outdoor play from 8 am to 8 pm, Monday through Friday and weekends from 9 am – 4 pm.

2. State law requires family day care home providers to live in their residence differentiating it from a childcare and early education facility. Maintaining the 100 linear feet concentration in the ZOU continues to prevent large family day care to be on adjoining parcels.

3. The requirement for large family day care to comply with parking, loading and circulation requirements and while the ZOU requires an evaluation of each family day care’s passenger loading plan, the draft ZOU would provide further protection by requiring a passenger loading plan subject to the approval of the Director.

Given the City’s long standing commitment to early childhood and recognition that education does not begin at kindergarten, removing obstacles to the provision of childcare in all residential zoning districts with safeguards would be consistent with the LUCE, according to the City.

The consideration to allow childcare and early education facilities in the R1 and OP1 single unit residential districts is based on the established safeguards in the conditional use permit (CUP) process.

Councilmember Ted Winterer moved a recommendation, which passed unanimously, to direct staff to come back with an ordinance on childcare centers in the R1 district that would be subject to a CUP.

“Modifying the ZOU to allow childcare and early education facilities as expressed in items 1, 2, and 3 above would continue to advance the City’s commitment to child care and early education, which is a key component of the Santa Monica Cradle to Career (SMC2C) Initiative,” City staff said.

“Early childhood education centers, like K-12 schools, should be allowed in all our neighborhoods so that they are convenient for working families and become part of the fabric of the local community,” commented Councilmember Gleam Davis. “As a working mom, I depended on having quality early childhood education facilities available near my home. I wish that there had been one within walking distance of my home.”

The childcare debate contains many nuances, according to Councilwoman Sue Himmelrich.

“I believe that pre-schools and early childhood education centers are very different from commercial childcare centers and should be distinguished in our zoning code,” Himmelrich said. “For example, a commercial day care center generally is open seven days a week with long hours. A preschool is generally open five days a week with shorter hours. And I don’t know anyone who would be happy if a 60-child daycare was opened next to their home operating seven days a week from, say 7 am to 9 pm, or even longer.”

City staff recommended that Council reconsider the changes in the ZOU to conform to the LUCE goal and policies.

Also receiving attention during the meetings was the issue of medical marijuana dispensaries.

If approved, the ZOU would authorize a maximum of two medical marijuana dispensaries subject to approval of a CUP.

The location limitations for dispensaries outlined in the ZOU are: MUB District along Wilshire Boulevard between Lincoln Boulevard and Centinela Avenue; GC District along Santa Monica Boulevard between Lincoln Boulevard and 20th Street; and MUBL District along Santa Monica Boulevard between 23rd Street and Centinela Avenue

According to Santa Monicans for Safe Access (SAMOSA), residents of Santa Monica want and approve of safe access to medical marijuana in Santa Monica.

“They believe that the provisions for that contained within the Zoning Ordinance Update are fair, reasonable and compassionate,” according to SAMOSA.

While all who spoke did not uphold this view, staff will return under direction on May 5.

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