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Santa Monica City Council Walks Back Putting Major Parks Bond on November Ballot


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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

December 15, 2017 -- After starting with high hopes, the Santa Monica City Council on Tuesday signaled it isn’t likely to put a bond measure on the November 2018 ballot to fund as much as $200 million in park improvements.

In the end, there were too many hurdles to victory.

Polling showed potential voters were not “overwhelmingly” supportive, especially after the potential impact on taxes was revealed, City staff said in a report to the council.

The “residents generally enjoy the City’s parks, are satisfied with park maintenance and operations, and are happy with their proximity to a park,” said the report by Karen Ginsberg, the City’s director of community and cultural Services.

Moreover, the telephone polls indicated the public was starting to associate City parks with Santa Monica’s large increase in homeless people, the report said -- a “challenging environment” in which to win votes for parks funding.

Although a 2018 parks ballot measure is not entirely off the table, the council agreed with staff that putting the bond measure on “pause,” possibly until 2020, would be preferable.

It also approved a two-year contract not to exceed $488,706 to MIG Inc., a California-based company, to update Santa Monica's 1997 Parks and Recreation Master Plan, which was meant to last 20 years.

The council’s action also included reviewing the polling on parks, done in August by Goodwin Simon Strategic Research and TBWB Strategies, the City’s “bond outreach strategist,” with staff.

Focus groups were first conducted this summer, “comprised of Santa Monica residents with demographics (age, political party, homeowner/renter status) representative of the City’s voting population,” the report said.

“The focus groups informed development of potential bond messaging as well as polling questions that were later tested with residents through telephone polling” in August, Ginsberg said.

About 61 percent of those polled said “they would definitely or probably support a parks bond,” although support shrunk to 55 percent after the amount of taxes was disclosed.

The general obligation bond considered would require 66.67 percent of the yes vote to pass. Those polled were queried about potential bond measures of either $100 million or $200 million.

“Residents value the City’s parks but do not feel a sufficient urgency to develop additional open space or renovate existing parks to be willing to pay for the improvements,” Ginsberg said.

The bond is meant for a variety of projects in the City’s parks pipeline. First in line is the Airport Park Expansion project, pegged at about $30 million.

Another long-awaited park project in need of more funding is the expansion of Memorial Park. The report also mentioned the land meant to be used for a “Great Park” after the 227-acre Santa Monica Airport closes at the end of 2028, and a sports field on what is now a Civic Center parking lot.

But Ginsberg said timing was also an issue.

The council has until June of 2018 to decide whether to place a local bond measure on the ballot.

But due to “staff capacity limitations and competing priorities,” the update of the master plan for parks was delayed and the first public draft isn’t expected until March 2019, she said.

“Because of this, moving forward with a bond measure on the November 2018 ballot in advance of the adoption of the PRMP update does not seem prudent,” she said.

Santa Monica is sometimes called park-poor because its current inventory provides 1.5 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents, compared to the Los Angeles County average of 3.3 acres per 1,000 residents.

The calculation, however, does not include the 245 acres of Santa Monica State Beach.


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