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Santa Monica to Take Down Chess Park

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By Jorge Casuso

February 18, 2022 -- Santa Monica's Chess Park, envisioned two decades ago as a tournament venue, has been permanently swept off the beach by antisocial and criminal behavior.

City officials said Thursday that staff will begin removing tables and benches -- which include a collection of 67 chess boards -- on February 28.

"Staff will continue to monitor the park space once the furniture is removed to assess whether the changes have discouraged unwanted behaviors," Assistant City Manager Susan Cline said in a report to the Council.

The final move comes nearly four months after the City's Recreation and Parks Commission voted to remove the benches and tables and temporarily close the park, which once featured a life-sized chess set.

Over the past half dozen years, residents have complained the park on the boardwalk near the Pier has been overrun by the homeless, with only a handful of individuals using it for chess.

Police call logs show that "concerns about Chess Park have been consistently raised and documented," Cline said. "Reports include incidents of both antisocial and criminal behavior.

"When criminal behavior is reported or witnessed, enforcement activity follows, including arrests," Cline said.

"Based on these reports and observations on how the park is used today, staff have evaluated modifications to Chess Park to address concerns about safety and accessibility."

The furniture will be removed "to create a uniform, flat surface at a cost of $6,500," Cline said.

"Without tables and benches, Chess Park would become flexible, non-programmed beachfront open space which could be activated by diverse users."

The City would then launch a process "to reimagine the park long-term" that will require funding and City Council direction.

The options include activating the park with safety measures in place, repurposing the park, converting it into a "revenue generating concessions location" or closing the park altogether.

Staff does not recommend closing the park, since there is a demand for park space in the City, Cline said.

In addition, fencing the park would require additional funding and maintenance, "would not be visually appealing" and "would not guarantee people would not find ways to enter the space," Cline said.

And because the park is in the Coastal Zone, closing it would require a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) from the California Coastal Commission, while declaring it a public nuisance would require consulting with Commission staff.

"It is not certain that closing the park and fencing the area will effectively abate quality of life issues, as it may create new opportunities for nuisance behavior on or around the site," Cline said.

"Once the park’s new purpose is identified, staff can better assess costs, possible funding models, and the level of impact to other park projects," Cline wrote in her report.

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