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Santa Monica Civic Center Playing Field Wins City Council Approval
By Niki Cervantes
June 29, 2017 -- After 12 years of hard lobbying, Samohi parents, student athletes and supporters on Tuesday won approval of a proposal to turn a busy parking lot in the Civic Center into a playing field for such sports as soccer and lacrosse.
The temporary playing field -- one of six options presented to the City Council -- will cost an estimated $8.6 million and includes a way to add softball to the sports that can be played there.
“At long last, yes,” said Council Member Kevin McKeown, joining the unanimous vote of his colleagues after a long public hearing.
“We promised them a field,” said Council Member Gleam Davis.
Davis cited “overwhelming support” from the Santa Monica High School community for the sports field, which is to be on a lot now used for about a thousand City Hall and Courthouse employees, Samohi faculty and others at the Civic Auditorium, closed since 2013.
The high school campus -- across 4th Street from the Auditorium lot -- is short on space for sports.
In voting for a temporary playing field, the council rejected five other options, including one to put the field in Memorial Park, ten blocks away ("City Proposes Six Options for Santa Monica Civic Center Sports Field," June 22, 2017).
Another proposal from City officials was to spend $95.4 million to build a permanent sports field on the Auditorium parking lot, and tunnel underground to add 725 parking spots.
Had that proposal been approved by the council, a public vote for a bond measure to cover the cost would have been necessary. The City had proposed splitting the cost with the public schools.
McKeown said 91 percent of the $94.5 million for the permanent-field option was for providing the subterranean parking structure.
“I don’t see how, in good faith, we could sell that to the public,” McKeown said.
The proposal “is way too much money for us to spend,” said Council Member Terry O’Day. “There are a lot of other things we can do with type of (financial) commitment.”
Reaction to the decision was mixed. Ann Hoover, a Samohi parent and co-chair of the school’s PTSA Civic Center Task Force, said Samohi parents are disappointed the permanent field was rejected.
“While we welcome Council's continued embrace of a temporary field at the Civic Center and direction to staff to move it forward," Hoover said, "we nevertheless are disappointed that Council, at least for now, rejected the opportunity to partner with the school district to build a permanent field and permanent underground parking there.”
But after so many years of fighting for even a temporary field, others were positive about the approved motion, which included asking staff to formally seek a private operator to reimagine and re-open the Civic Auditorium.
Tricia Crane of Northeast Neighbors called the vote “a small miracle -- a unanimous vote to move ahead with both a sports field and a process to restore the landmark Civic Auditorium.”
About 50 speakers crowded into Council Chambers. They included parents panicked by all the new options for the sports field added at the last minute by City officials.
Tuesday’s vote was a blow to officials from the 15-room county Courthouse, which relies heavily on the lot and urged the council to preserve it.
A representative of Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said usurping parking would be unfair to the thousands of people who stream in and out of the courthouse each day.
Davis, in offering the motion eventually adopted unanimously, noted a comprehensive parking report still needs to be compiled and approval won from the state Coastal Commission.
If the approval is granted, work on the temporary sports field would start in March of 2020, with the opening scheduled one year later.
It is time, Davis said, “for everyone to adjust their expectations here.”
Some caveats were added to the motion to move forward with the temporary park.
The school board is expected to discuss the sports field at its Thursday meeting.
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