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Santa Monica Dance Studio Gets Council Protection for Relocation

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By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

December 29, 2014--City officials plan to look the other way as The Pretenders Dance Studio moves into a new building on Broadway and Ninth Street in Santa Monica that is zoned residential.

Marsha Moutrie, city attorney, recommended this non-action as the best option for the City Council members to support the studio that many people say is a valuable part of the community and desperately needs to find a new home.

Pretenders’ lease recently ended, and it is now paying month-to-month at a higher rate than it previously did that it cannot afford, program founder and director Lisa Gumenick told the council in a passionate speech Dec. 16.

Councilmembers Gleam Davis and Ted Winterer proposed City staff draft an amendment to the zoning code to allow the studio to move to the new location, which Gumenick said was a good spot found after nearly a year of searching -- minus the zoning issue.

“I would never bring this to you if there was anything I could have done to solve this on my own,” said Gumenick, who was nearly in tears. “But I turn to you as a last plea to say please help us stay alive here in Santa Monica.”

She added that unless the move were allowed to happen, “We will have no choice but to close, and that is a devastating thing for me as a community leader, as a resident of Santa Monica, and for the kids.”

The council heard from many speakers in favor of the move, including several who said their lives or their children’s lives were saved by the studio.

Moutrie told the council that rather than create a new zoning law that would take several weeks to implement, it could instruct City staff not to enforce the existing law for this situation, which is a common thing for governing bodies to do when the law could be changing soon.
The council is expected to approve a revise zoning code next year, and issues like this could be addressed.

Pretenders’ attorney said he needed to receive solid assurance from the City that its move could take place because it had to inform the new landlord before the end of the month.

Moutrie said she could work with Pretenders’ attorney to create language that was “as anxiety-relieving as possible for everyone concerned, both the dance studio and the prospective landlord.”

She said the other option of creating a new zoning law was a bad idea for another reason than that it would take too long to implement.

“What you’re proposing to do is write land-use policy based on a single case, which you should never do anyway,” she said.

The council’s planned method is similar to what it intends to do for the owner of a residential building that wants the structure to open for brain surgery (“Santa Monica Landmark Could Open as Brain Surgery Center,” Dec. 24, 2014).

However, in the brain surgery situation, there is no opposition. Support for the dance studio’s planned move is not universal.

Davis said the council received messages from community members “at least raising the specter there might be some people opposed to it.” No opponents spoke at the meeting.

Winterer said this situation was an example of a problem that City officials must address.

“We need to find ways for these particular sort of youth-serving uses to find space in this city, and it is becoming increasingly challenging,” Winterer said. “And we need to open up these opportunities in these particular buildings.”

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