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New Questions Raised Over Proposed Santa Monica Civic Center Playing Field
By Niki Cervantes
September 13, 2017 -- Less than three months after declaring victory in a long fight with the City to turn the Santa Monica Civic Center parking lot into a playing field, parents said Tuesday they have learned the proposal could be endangered again -– this time by the state Coastal Commission.
At the City Council’s meeting Tuesday, parents said they had just learned the commission put two items on its consent agenda for a meeting Thursday in Cambria which could take the space needed for the sports field.
The two projects -- a child care development facility and the nearly $77 million City Hall annex -- were moved to next month’s regular agenda at the last minute, said City Manager Rick Cole.
Cole told the parents there was no jeopardy for the field, which has been the subject of a 17-year tug-of-war with the City and a contingent of Samohi parents, young athletes and other supporters.
“We see no conflict between the field and the (other) projects,” he said.
But battle-weary parents at the meeting were angry and worried the playing field was quietly being relegated to last in line for space by the two developments and others being discussed for the revitalization of the Civic Center.
“There is not going to be space,” Nikki Kolhoff, one of the pro-playing field speakers, told the council.
In June, the council voted to approve a temporary playing field at an estimate cost of $8.6 million, close to the original proposal floated long ago by Samohi parents ("Santa Monica Civic Center Playing Field Wins City Council Approval," June 29, 2017).
In doing so, they rejected a variety of other options, including spending $95.4 million to build a permanent sports field on the Civic Auditorium parking lot, and tunnel underground to add 725 parking spots.
But the council said no, despite the potential for splitting the cost with the school district. Nearly the entire price tag was tied to the underground parking, putting the council in the position of spending to add parking downtown at a time when it is trying to slash parking and car use.
That decision prompted renewed anger Tuesday, with competing projects so close to commission approval.
“We’re not going to build parking, yet we’re going to build parking for your pet projects,” said Ann Hoover, one of the parents.
“We really don’t want the field to be set up to fail,” another speaker said.
The staff report to the Coastal Commission supported the Early Childhood Education Center (ECDC), a joint project between the City, Santa Monica College (SMC) and RAND, and the City Services Building.
Neither would remove an unacceptable amount of parking from the Civic Center lot, which has 1,770 parking slots, the report said.
It was originally meant to accommodate the Civic Auditorium. Since the facility’s closure, though, the lot has been used for employees of City Hall, the court house, Samohi and others. The report said the lot is never beyond 60 percent full on week days or weekends.
But it also noted the City would need be watchful of the demand for parking due to its other plans for the Civic Center.
They include the rehabilitation and 20,000-square-foot expansion of the Civic Auditorium as well as the removal of more surface parking to the east to accommodate the Civic Auditorium Park, the report said.
“The City intends to consolidate the Civic Auditorium surface parking into a below-grade parking structure," the report said. "According to the City’s CCSP, the construction of the Civic Auditorium addition and the Civic Auditorium Park will be proposed after the construction of the ECEC project.
"For any future development in the Civic Center Area, the City will need to continue to evaluate parking for effective planning to ensure that the parking supply at the Civic Center area.”
The project, which includes three one- to- two-story buildings, needs the commission’s approval because it is close to the beach and potentially strips available public parking.
Also on the agenda was the City Services Building, an annex to the historic City Hall of 50,200 square feet. It will house about 240 employees currently scattered in leased spaces into one location, as well as feature an emergency operations center. It seeks 90 parking spaces.
The City Services Building and the proposed playing field need commission approval as well.
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