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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

September 19, 2016 -- A childcare and early education facility on Harvard Street that will be run by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) is headed to Santa Monica's Architectural Review Board (ARB) after winning the approval of the Planning Commission earlier this month.

After hearing from numerous speakers in favor and opposed to the project, the Commission on September 7 approved a request from the religious group for a conditional-use permit to operate the facility.

Commissioners approved various conditions that are meant to mitigate the opposition's concerns about traffic and noise issues that could affect the residential-zoned neighborhood where the facility is located.

The Friends must still go to the Architectural Review Board (ARB) for final approval since the project involves some physical modifications. Also, the permit approval can be appealed to the City Council. The deadline to appeal is Wednesday.

Several people who live near the facility said the location was not an appropriate one for childcare. They said noise is already an issue with the current uses of the facility.

One woman said she can hear urinating in the bathroom while the facility is used for religious services and various evening group meetings, and she said it would get worse with children included.

The Friends have proposed ending the evening meetings for groups such as AA.

A few speakers said they would prefer the evening meetings continue rather than introducing the new use that could include as many as 30 children, and possibly more in the future, based on a permit condition.

“This is not the best location for [childcare],” said Amy Jaffe, who lives on Harvard Street. “Kids are kids. They play. They scream. They fight. They do things that kids need to do.”

In the days leading up to the Planning Commission meeting, flyers and posters were distributed in the neighborhood that encouraged people to come to the session to oppose the project (“Santa Monica Quaker House Expansion Could Be Controversial,” September 6, 2016).

Several project supporters, including those associated with the local religious group, said the flyers contained misinformation.

“No one approached saying, 'Can we dialogue, can we have a conversation about this,'” said Kate Watkins, who has worked as a clerk at the existing facility for five years.

She added, “Really, the first thing I ever heard about [an opposition] was through these inaccurate flyers and posters that were put up. We are very open to working with our neighbors to try to make things right.”

This is the second attempt by The Friends to open a childcare facility. The commission last year approved their request to expand its daycare on the 1900 block of 22nd Street into a childcare and early education facility.

The Friends did not go through with the plan “due to site constraints and the restrictiveness of some of the regulations imposed,” according to a City staff report.

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