As a dedicated Santa Monica Recreation and Parks Commissioner, I believe there are three things the City Council can and must do as it debates the Civic Working Group’s Report on the future of our Civic Center:
1) Ensure the site includes a full-sized, multi-purpose athletic field for use by Santa Monica High School and every resident and visitor to our city…
2) Reconsider the construction of the Early Childhood Education Center, if it is to be primarily used as a glorified day care center for the children of already well-compensated City, SMC and Rand employees, many which do not even live here…
3) Make sure the Civic Auditorium is run by a private entity and can become a new and worthwhile cultural entity, and if it cannot, consider ways to preserve the wonderful, land-marked facade and create something more utilitarian and culturally positive on the site…
Santa Monica High is home to thousands of students. The 2005 Civic Center Plan committed to a much-needed field on the Civic site. That promise should not be broken. Kicking the can down the road by dangling possible future fields at the airport is unacceptable, and would only add unnecessary traffic to our city from its most congested area, (4th and the I-10) to its most contested one (SMO). The Council, by making a full-sized, multi-purpose field a priority, would be delivering on a promise to those thousands of SaMoHi students, while also serving our residents and visitors with a wonderful green space the site surely needs. The field would also serve as the “glue” which connects and unites the Civic Center with the many fine facilities such as Barnam Hall and the Greek Amphitheatre, which can and should be used to compliment any venue the Civic Auditorium might eventually become.
The Early Childhood Education Center is a noble pursuit… Who would not want to support the creation of a place that serves our neediest and most-vulnerable young residents? But the ECEC as conceived now is no such a place: It would serve primarily the children of three entities; City, SMC and Rand employees, many who do not even live here. The parents of those children, to be sure, are well-compensated. Surely, Rand can and should fund its own daycare on its own site, like other progressive companies. Surely, the City can and should utilize present space such as the Ken Edwards Center or the Palisades Park site for its daycare. How nice it would be for our seniors and children to mingle in the same place, benefitting and enriching the lives of each other. I have taught at SMC. My son attends school there. Please do not tell me there is not existing space at the college for a daycare paid for by the SMC employees whose children would benefit from it. One final point: An expensive and new building on city-owned land will not produce better children, but one or two dedicated teachers in any loving environment will. There are less-expensive alternatives to the ECEC and the Council can and must consider and encourage their implementation.
Finally, the Civic Auditorium itself. I was part of the “Save the Civic” group which advocated for the creation of the Civic Working Group and advocated for many of its members. I commend their efforts and dedication. Clearly, history has shown us the city has proved to be a less-than-ideal Civic steward. I say this not as criticism but as fact. The City Council can and must allow a private entity to give the Civic a second life as a new cultural venue, where a small King Tut exhibit, or a Tom Petty concert, or the Santa Monica Symphony, or a marquee movie screening during the AFI Convention could be screened. The new Civic must be all these things and must earn its place in the Civic Center’s future. If it cannot, then the best option might be to preserve its landmarked façade and create something on the site that will serve the above uses and much more. A white elephant serves no one and takes up a lot of space. The Civic must be reborn, or it must be allowed to fade gently into history.
These decisions are complex and difficult. Positive change will take time. There will be winners and losers. But the right decisions outlined above can and must be made and the right actions taken. Anything less is to squander the opportunity to be truly “civic” to the Civic Center’s future.
In closing, I commend and stand with the many students and parents in support of a full-purpose field. When deciding the Civic Center’s future, the field is a good place for the Council to start.
John C. Smith,
Santa Monica Recreation and Parks Commissioner