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SMa.r.t. Column: Counseling The City Council

This week, our SMa.r.t. column is authored by concerned resident Nikki Kolhoff. Nikki has been an active voice in the community for many years, focusing on both City and SMMUSD issues that impact us all. The current issue Nikki is addressing here is something all residents should be concerned about, namely the unwarranted sale/lease of our historic Civic Center Auditorium and the behind-the-doors manner in which the City Staff and Council have proceeded without public input and participation. She first communicated these data points to the Council in April and again at last week’s City Council meeting, noting they had made no changes to their positions. 

City Council –

I urge you to oppose the sale of the Civic Center Auditorium and instead give direction to staff to commence a public process to identify viable options for revitalizing our Civic Center Auditorium. The reasons are many:

1.  Questions for Staff: The entire premise for the October resolution is based on a long-term lease and not a sale, which raises the question of why the staff is now pushing a sale. The staff report furthers the long-term lease premise by stating they won’t even need to designate as surplus “if HCD confirms that the long-term leasing of the existing facility with only interior tenant improvements is not subject to the SLA.” So why did they need to designate it surplus in October? Did the staff get a response from HCD? The only reason the council declared it surplus was to start the process for a lease with improvements not subject to the SLA.  Staff’s argument pushed for a resolution claiming it is needed prior to disposition.  However, there is nothing in the report that says this had to happen before engaging in discussions with potential parties and the discussion of potential options. 

2.  No findings of surplus: the resolution states:

“Whereas, the City Council desires to declare the City Owned Properties as surplus land and not necessary for the City’s use; and whereas the City Council desires that the City-Owned Properties be treated as surplus land within the meaning of the SLA, to the extent required by the SLA, whereas the accompanying staff report provides supporting information upon which the declaration and findings set forth in this Resolution are based;”

Where are the findings in the staff report that the Auditorium is surplus? We don’t see any such findings. Given the lack of findings and the premises under which staff moved this forward, the October 2022 resolutions must be rescinded.

3.  SMMUSD demolishes historic buildings: SMMUSD is a terrible partner when it comes to historic resources and landmarks. They expressly refused to include local criteria in their “historic resources policy” and demolished both the JAMS Auditorium and the Samohi History Building. They are not bound to local rules, so a sale to SMMUSD ensures the demolition of the Auditorium.

4.  Housing is not appropriate in a Civic Center: The Village housing development is already a shame and a misuse of public land. Luxury condos (or any housing) have no place being built in a Civic Center. A Civic Center is for public amenities and for open use by the residents of Santa Monica and visitors from the public. A transfer to Community Corp removes the land from public use, and there is no guarantee it would even house current Santa Monica residents at risk of displacement.

5.  Lack of public process for the last six years and a sham before that:  The last “public” process was an RFP in 2017. Staff and council continuing to noodle options with a single suitor is obviously not a robust public process and surely isn’t sufficient to dispose of a landmark. Prior to that, there was the Civic Center Working Group, which was implemented to railroad development of the Civic Center and was heavily biased toward private developer uses.  There is no other explanation for a panel drawing the conclusion that the SMC Lab School, a walled-off fortress for private daycare, seemingly for Rand, SMC, and City staff, is an appropriate use while the Sports Field, used by thousands of residents and visitors every week, is not.

Times have changed, and a fully open public process to determine the future of the Auditorium is needed. We need all options on the table, all potential partners to be engaged, and a grand plan to revive the music scene in Santa Monica at the Auditorium.  It is absurd that the council could find a landmarked, historic music and entertainment venue that is no longer needed in Santa Monica.

6.  Backwards fiscal priorities of Staff and Council got us here. Santa Monica loves to cry broke. But we are not. Our leaders just have terrible priorities for the use of our ample resources. Remember, when the renovation was estimated at $50 million, Staff, Council, SMC, and SMMUSD prioritized the following before spending any money on the Civic Auditorium:  

  • Demolition of the historic JAMS Auditorium and replacement with a $45 million middle school auditorium paid for by SMMUSD and SMC bonds;
  • Gifting SMC the Civic Center land for free and spending $34 million of city funds and SMC bonds on what seems to function as private daycare for City, SMC, and Rand staff;
  • Demolishing the History Building to spend $85 million of SMMUSD bonds on a classroom building we don’t need because of declining enrollment;
  • Spending $141 million on a city hall annex for 243 staff;
  • Spending $85 million in SMMUSD bonds on a “practice gym” that cannot host legitimate sporting events;
  • Spending $100 million on a sewage treatment plant that might not work.
  • I am sure there are more examples, but these alone would have paid for the Civic Auditorium eight times over.

7.  Brown Act: The broad use of the Brown Act exception to avoid public discussions isn’t permissible. Nobody believes that your closed-door meetings have been limited to price. And holding the closed-door meeting to take action prior to the public component is even more damning. We, the public, are entitled to hear all the details except the price, and that is not happening here.

Also, the agenda title for the October 2022 resolution only listed the address and not the structure in the first item, which means the description wasn’t adequate to comply with the Brown Act.

8.  Education not a priority: Nothing screams “education” as a sham more than holding a meeting about SMMUSD’s purchase of the Auditorium during spring break.  At a minimum, this must be postponed until after spring break. Otherwise, this harkens back to the Joint Use Agreement vote pushed through during spring break in 2019 with none of the public or oversight processes followed.

9.  Reconsideration by the City Council: The Council may reconsider the resolution, and we just need one of you with the guts to ask for that based on the total lack of consistency with the current proposals on the table and the lack of public process.

Please do the right thing for Santa Monica. Halt the sale process, rescind the resolution, and give direction to staff to commence a public process to identify viable options for revitalizing our Civic Center Auditorium.

Regards,
Nikki Kolhoff
Santa Monica Resident and SMMUSD Parent

Should any of our readers choose to contact the City Council regarding the Civic Center Auditorium sale, they can best be contacted by writing them at councilmtgitems@smgov.net

SMa.r.t.
Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow

Ron Goldman, Architect FAIA; Robert H. Taylor, Architect AIA; Dan Jansenson, Architect, Building & Fire-Life Safety Commissioner; Thane Roberts, Architect; Mario Fonda-Bonardi, Architect AIA, Planning Commissioner; Samuel Tolkin, Architect, Planning Commissioner; Michael Jolly,  AIR-CREFor previous articles, see www.santamonicaarch.wordpress.com/writing

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