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Santa Monica Council Earmarks $3.5 Million for Temporary Playing Field
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Roque & Mark Real Estate
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Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP


Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

 

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

May 26, 2016 -- The Santa Monica City Council Tuesday voted to earmark $3.5 million in future funds for a sports field at the Civic Center, inching forward on a promise made to do so more than a decade ago.

After a new round of pleas from parents and others, the Council voted unanimously to set aside money for a temporary playing field from the roughly $121.7 million budget for capital projects proposed in the 2017-2018 fiscal year – the period when the biggest bills for the field would start coming due.

“What people want from us is a commitment," said City Council Member Kevin McKeown, "to know that we are serious about this.”

Council Member Sue Himmelrich, who made the funding motion, said the money assigned to the project would be safe and in place when the time comes to use it.

“This is for the sports field,” Himmelrich said. “We won’t be tapping into it for anything else. We’ll put a fence around it.”

Money for the playing field consumed a large part of the Council’s meeting, but members were also confronted with fiscal updates that showed the City’s finances potentially dropping onto shaky ground in coming years.

The five-year City forecast, which starts with the 2016-2017 fiscal year, showed positive balances during the first three years but shortfalls of $3.5 million and $6.4 million (or 1.6 percent of the General Fund Budget), respectively, in the last two years.

Part of the upcoming fiscal knot is tied to dozens of planned capital projects, according to a forecast by Finance Director Gigi Decavalles-Hughes.

The proposed capital budget is $113.7 million for fiscal year 2016-17 and $121.7 million for the following year.

The total 2016-17 fiscal year Citywide proposed budget is $621.8 million, $372.3 million of which is in the general fund.

The Council began delving into the fiscal problem, but the night’s meeting mostly belonged to the supporters of the playing field, who have lobbied nearly two decades for the project.

The Council vowed in 2005 to build the park on what is now a 400-space parking just west of Santa Monica High School. But the sports field’s fate still remained uncertain when the Council in February voted to study of the proposed playing field.

Renewed lobbying by supporters prompted City Manager Rick Cole on Tuesday to release a proposal for immediate funding for the playing field, along with an accelerated time table for its installation ("Santa Monica Could Get Temporary Playing Field," May 25, 2016).

All seven Council members said Tuesday night they were committed to the proposed field and accelerated timeline. But they differed on whether to vote to assign funds this early for a project that doesn’t break ground until 2018.

In the end, the Council agreed that it could afford the price tag and that the vote was a show of faith. Council Member Gleam Davis said the Council's support would be particularly important in a showdown with the Coastal Commission over the loss of the parking lot.

Throwing the City’s financial weight behind the playing field will help in that battle, Davis said. “It will suggest a level of seriousness,” she said.

A long line of supporters continued pushing for the project Tuesday. School Board Member Craig Foster said he was sure his colleagues would consider a joint use and funding arrangement –- a proposal City officials are already pressing .

Some parents said their children would soon be too old to use the proposed playing field and urged the Council to act quickly. Others were worried that the playing field would get lost in the much bigger and more expensive expansion plans for Airport Park and Memorial Park.

And then there were speakers who had been in the tug-of-war so long they were highly skeptical of the Council. They sounded tired, although ready to fight on if necessary.

“Please don’t make us keep sending you emails,” pleaded one supporter.

“We are counting on you not to punt on this again,” added Ann Hoover, a Samohi parent. “Please, make this a reality.”

The Council also asked Cole to return to the Council with quarterly updates on the project’s progress.


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