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City Proposes Six Options for Santa Monica Civic Center Sports Field
By Niki Cervantes
June 22, 2017 -- What started as a call from Santa Monica High School parents and others for a temporary, inexpensive playing field on a Civic Center parking lot has mushroomed into six options, including one that isn't on the same site at all and another with a price tag of $95.4 million.
A report by City department heads -- which goes to the City Council on Tuesday -- explores wide-ranging options that go far beyond the sports field the Santa Monica High School (Samohi) community has been lobbying for for more than 12 years.
Considering all factors, the least costly, least risky, and fastest alternative would be to develop a temporary multipurpose sports field at Memorial Park some ten blocks from Samohi, according to the report released Wednesday.
That option would not displace parking, and thus not require the approval of the state Coastal Commission, said Karen Ginsberg, director of Community and Cultural Services for the City and one of the report's authors.
"Those are big opportunities," she said. "Some (Samohi) activities are already held at Memorial Park."
Staff's report acknowledged that "this approach would not meet the desires of the Samohi community who have advocated for a multipurpose sports field with a softball field overlay adjacent to the high school campus."
City officials may have underestimated the Samohi parents' reaction to its latest proposal, which has been met with "astonished" opposition ("Santa Monica High Parents 'Astonished' by City's Latest Sports Field Proposal," June 22, 2017.)
Another option proposed by staff is to defer action on the sports field entirely, but start hunting for a Civic Auditorium operator whose purpose is to find private partners to renovate the beleaguered 60-year-old facility the City closed in 2013 - long a major goal for City officials.
The Auditorium's lot -- which has approximately 1,000 parking spaces -- has remained open, and is heavily used by City Hall, the Courthouse and those who attend limited events at the facility.
The least expensive option in the report is a $8.6 million plan to install a temporary sports field in the lot.
As with most of the other options, the field would include a softball overlay, or artificial turf and related necessities to be rolled out when needed, leaving the field free for the rest of the time for other sports, like soccer and lacrosse.
But that option would face several hurdles, officials said.
The proposal would require approval from the state Coastal Commission, which would consider whether access to the coast was impeded by the loss of parking, the report said. An analysis of the parking impact would be required, with the cost estimated at $250,000.
While the biggest impact would be the loss of parking, there are other financial drawbacks, officials said. According to the report, the City would lose a net of $16.7 million over 55 years, assuming the City paid the entire cost.
Cost is so much higher than parents and supporters originally estimated because the project would include the softball overlay (estimated by officials to cost $1.5 million), the parking analysis and escalating costs of construction, Ginsberg said.
It is "significantly challenged," Ginsberg said of the option.
The report also presents a $95.4 million option for a permanent field with a two-level subterranean parking garage that would provide up to 725 parking spots.
That price-tag is $10 million to $15 million more than the City first estimated.
The City and the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) would split the cost of a permanent field.
Ginsberg said the option would require a ballot measure to issue a bond. Approval of two-thirds of the voters is needed.
"While it is premature to identify the ultimate size of such a local bond measure, it is clear that a sizable portion of a future funding measure would be required to realize a project of this magnitude," the report said.
"Other priority park needs identified by the community such as the construction of the 12-acre expansion of Airport Park, the expansion of Memorial Park, and land acquisition for new parks, could potentially be deferred if sufficient funding is not available," the report warned.
If voters do not approve such a bond measure, the City would need to reimburse SMMUSD for 50 percent of the design costs already spent.
Another option “pegged at a cost of about $60 million" builds the permanent sports field at the Civic Center parking lot but only tunnels down one level, providing 325 parking spaces.
Work on any playing field at the Auditorium site would overlap with the construction of the new City Services Building and the Sustainable Water Infrastructure Project, the report notes.
Also on the list of options is building a temporary sports field but leasing space off-site to accommodate those who would lose their parking places.
But the report said the cost of leasing could be considerable, and it is uncertain if there are enough vendors willing to do so.
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