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Controversy Over Childcare Center in Pico Neighborhood Goes to Santa Monica City Council


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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

December 5, 2017 -- Families living a small “oasis of calm” in booming Santa Monica are asking the City Council tonight to stop a 20-student preschool from moving into a home in their single-family neighborhood, saying it sets a precedent of commercial encroachment.

Neighbors surrounding the property at 2953 Delaware Avenue near Gandara Park in the Pico Neighborhood are appealing to the council to reject an earlier vote by the City’s Planning Commission allowing the center.

City staff recommends upholding the Planning Commission decision, noting, among other positive attributes, the center could help ease a shortage of childcare affordable to low-to-moderate income families.

An estimate by a regional referral agency said 50 to 60 local families, with 80 to 100 children among them, are on the waiting list for affordable child care at any given time.

Most of them are from the Pico neighborhood, home to the largest concentration of low-income residents, and minorities, in the otherwise well-heeled city.

The applicant, a former local teacher named Laila Taslimi, “voluntarily agreed to offer tuition assistance to low and moderate- income families within the 90404 (Pico) zip code to ensure that 1/3 of the children at the facility live within a ¼-mile radius,” the staff report to the council said.

The issue goes to the council tonight during its regular 5:30 p.m. meeting at City Hall, 1685 Main Street, which begins with a closed-door executive session before doing public business.

Opponents include the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA), as well as other neighborhood associations in the city -- all worried about preservation of such traditional neighborhoods in the face of ongoing development in Santa Monica.

“The Proposed Preschool is opposed by almost every neighbor in the surrounding neighborhood, including all immediate neighbors,” said Nada Shamonki in filing the September 20 appeal on behalf of her neighbors, more than 200 of whom signed petitions to stop the center from moving in.

The narrow, three-block street is lined with a canopy of ficas trees, absorbing outside noise. But the childcare center could add another 50 cars to the existing volume -- greatly increased since the introduction of the Expo Line with at-grade crossing at Stewart Street.

Local businesses also use the stretch of Delaware for employees and the Waze app has designated the nearby streets as cut-throughs to avoid traffic on the 10 freeway, Olympic, Exposition and Centinela.

According to “Preserve Our Neighborhood,” the Gandara-based neighborhood group formed for the fight, the area already has more than 66 other early education schools within two miles.

Nor is it impressed with the claim that the proposed child-care center is affordable.

The lowest monthly tuition is $1,700 to $2,000 per child, it said.

Among those supporting the Gandara neighbors is the Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition.

“Allowing such a commercial operation. . . on a narrow residential street like Delaware Ave. will not only be unsafe, it will continue the pattern of ignoring neighborhoods quality of life concerns,” the Wilmont Board of Directors said in a letter to council members.

Oscar del la Torre, director of the Pico Youth and Family Center (PYFC), agreed.

He said Santa Monica’s city councils have had a long record of “disregarding” the wants and needs of its residents in the Pico Neighborhood.

“I’m hoping they’ll break their own tradition,” he said.

In a letter to the Council, PNA says the proposed project "eliminates existing housing stock and allows for the encroachment of commercial uses into quiet residential neighborhoods.

“'They wouldn’t allow this to happen North of Montana where the owner of the proposed pre school lives” is a common saying in our recent neighborhood discussions on the topic,'" the letter says.

The Gandara neighborhood has a long history with some residents, Shamonki’s appeal said, “especially those of Japanese-American descent who moved to the neighborhood, which was one of the few places to allow Japanese-Americans to buy homes following their internment during World War II.”

“Many of most impacted residents are Japanese-American internment camp survivors in their 80s and 90s,” Shamonki said.

The property in question -- on the north side of Delaware Avenue between Dorchester Avenue and Yorkshire Avenue -- is 1,478 square foot home built in 1940, and expanded with a 375-square foot rear addition in 1951. A 366-square foot, two-car garage is accessed from the rear alley.

As many as 20 children, ages four to six, would be served by the center. It would operate between 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Mondays through Fridays.

Included are four classrooms and outdoor play space in the front and back yards totaling 2,598 square feet.


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