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Commission Approves Santa Monica Preschool Despite Opposition

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

February 5, 2016 --The owners of Meadow Preschool, expected to open in Santa Monica next year on 26th Street between Arizona Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard, will have to convince some neighbors the new facility won’t be a bother.

Several owners of homes near the proposed school objected to the plan when it went before the Planning Commission on Wednesday. They said it created noise and other issues.

Also, others, including a former mayor, said it was dangerous to open a school on what they considered to be a high-traffic street.

The objections did not persuade the Planning Commission, which voted 5-1 for a conditional-use permit to open the school. The CUP was required because the neighborhood is zoned for residential use.

Commissioner Gerda Newbold said Santa Monica needed more places for childcare, an opinion shared by several public speakers.

When saying this, Newbold addressed the concern by certain speakers that this would probably not be a low-cost school.

“Affordable childcare is important, and that probably is not what this is going to be,” Newbold said. “But I think we need all varieties of childcare.”

Co-owner Bridget Cook, who said efforts would be made to provide tuition assistance, told the commission Meadow would be a nature-based preschool.

“We focus on nature, natural materials and a really big push for environmentally friendly behaviors and practices,” she said.

The property features two duplexes and a garage. The plan is to tear down the garage and transform the residences, which are not occupied, into school buildings.

An open yard between the buildings would be used for a play area. There is also a front yard that would be used for this. The school could accommodate up to 30 children

This project has the blessing of the Mid-City Neighborhood Association.

Andrew Hoyer, association president and one who is never shy about objecting to projects large and small, said he was glad to see the renovation happening because the current site is “a dump.”

Hoyer added that if the school weren’t being opened, a developer would buy the property and turn it into a large condo complex, which he did not want.

“We are preserving the character of the neighborhood,” he said. “We are preserving the buildings for future potential residential use. And we are creating a wonderful place for children.”

Not sharing Hoyer’s enthusiasm was the city’s former mayor, Bob Holbrook, who made a rare government meeting appearance since retiring from the City Council in 2014 after 24 years of service.

He said it was a bad idea to have a drop-off area on 26th Street, which he called “a freeway” and the site of a crash that led to one of the largest financial settlements during his time on the council.

“I think it's wonderful people [running the school], a wonderful idea, a wonderful service,” Holbrook said. “It’s just in the wrong place for safety.”

Also objecting to the project was Rent Control Board member Nicole Phillis, who told the commission it was bad the project would be taking two rent-controlled units out of the housing market.

Phillis said a proper filing had not been made when the property ownership changed hands, making it out of compliance with rent-control rules.

She also said the owners had not begun the process to take the property out of the rent business in accordance with the Ellis Act, a State law.

This would be the first time a property would be approved for a project that effectively eliminated rent-controlled units prior to the start of the Ellis procedure, said Phillis, who called the situation “troubling.”

Planning Commissioner Jennifer Kennedy, the lone vote against the project, had similar concerns.

City Attorney Barry Rosenbaum said the commission did not have the authority to reject the project over the rent-control issues.

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