At a recent Council meeting (2/28/17) there was a discussion about building the long promised and needed sports field at the corner of Pico and Fourth which is a portion of the Civic Center Specific Plan, adopted more than 10 years ago and modified at least twice since.
While it appears there will be forward progress on implementing either a temporary, or permanent, sports field, it is frustrating to see that concern for parking, or loss thereof, is now suddenly being raised, once again, in an attempt to delay the sports field. There were County Court employees that spoke against the project at the council for example, claiming a loss of 600 parking spaces and that will hinder their functioning as a viable courthouse. The Coastal Commission has supposedly questioned the potential loss of parking for beach and visitor access. Finally, scare tactics were rolled out about how the restoration of the Civic Auditorium will be allegedly impossible if the temporary field were installed. These are all spurious arguments because the big Civic Center parking structure was built expressly for replacing the spaces that would indeed be lost when the Civic Center plan was fully implemented. And we know the Auditorium has plenty of space on all four sides for construction staging during its restoration, so the temporary or permanent field should have no impact on its restoration feasibility.
Now that we have built that five story parking structure and are ready to implement the sports field, which is part of the original Civic center plan and has the most public support, suddenly there’s not enough parking? What has changed is relatively clear. First, the City allowed promenade businesses employees to park there, then SAMOHI staff and students were allowed to park, and finally City employees, who are privileged to park for free, piled on. Along the way, the City allowed expansion onto approximately 20 percent of the parking lot for Santa Monica College (SMC) to build a privately run child care center, known as the Early Childhood Education Center (ECEC), but without requiring replacement parking for the area they occupy and suddenly the parking we built and paid for is not adequate for the Civic Center sports field development.
Allowing free parking for City employees and others including the additional employees that will come with the new overpriced $80-million City Hall Expansion building, creating a disincentive to walk, bike and use public transit, e.g. the Expo, and net result is a maxed out parking structure. Having used up so much of the parking structure intended for development of the Civic Center, the athletes and students may be faced with having to pursue a 2018 bond to get the sports field they had been promised decades ago.
The impact of the ECEC at the Civic Center is particularly painful. The ECEC has received two Council approved amendments to the original Specific Plan, ballooning the proposed building to an even larger footprint in both square footage and height. It is proposed to serve 110 toddlers, of which about 35 are “promised,” thanks to the hard fought effort of Councilmember Himmelrich, to be available to Santa Monica residents. Without having to provide replacement parking, the ECEC was rewarded with a lease of $1 a year for 55 years or more, plus given $5 million dollars to kick start the project. Meanwhile the City set back for another three months the $2-million temporary sports field they approved a year ago! Essentially it appears that the needs of the 75 toddlers, likely kids of City and Rand employees, and of court judges, are more important than the needs of 3,000 SAMOHI students, and thousands of AYSO, Pop Warner, and La Crosse players.
It was stated at a council meeting that the original agreement between the City and SMC had expired and that to date there may no longer be an actual signed and obligated agreement. Ironically SMC just spent $5 million to purchase the former YWCA property near 14 th and Pico. That YWCA structure is of comparable size to the proposed Civic Center ECEC and has largely functioned as an ECEC having indoor/outdoor play areas, offices and classroom space. It has parking, and as it is adjacent to the main campus, would not create additional traffic coming and going between locations. SMart is supportive of childcare and early education, but the residents and our impacted high school needs the sports field, particularly since they lost their baseball field, and the SAMOHI campus has no place to expand.
A public representative foolishly said passing a bond will delay the field’s completion by “only” 18 months. But passing bonds is not easy or quick. Already burdened with three sales tax increases and a recent 350 million dollar SMC bond, a field bond will have to garner 2/3 of voters support, be affordable, and available when residents are not feeling pinched. The Civic Auditorium will be on that bond as well, and, like all historical building restorations, it will be delicate, slow and more costly than just a temporary field. The uncertainties of a new bond would mean that no child would likely play on a Civic Center field for at least another seven years.
SMC can, and should, utilize their newly purchased YWCA site for the ECEC, and the City should use the $5 million promised to SMC to build the temporary sports field, and then pursue the 2018 Bond. Without the ECEC there is less parking loss and less squeezing of the sports field from regulation size to practice size, and less excuse that it will hinder the Civic Auditorium restoration. The Civic Center is simply the wrong place for a privately run childcare center serving only 35 resident toddlers and it should not be the cause of delaying or killing a sports field that will serve thousands of local kids and adults.