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Santa Monica Neighborhood Group Fighting Preschool Loses City Council Appeal

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

January 25, 2018 -- A neighborhood group in the Gandara Park area of Santa Monica on Tuesday lost the appeal it filed with the City Council to stop conversion of a home into a preschool for as many as 20 children.

The council voted 5 to 2 to deny the appeal by “Residents for the Preservation of Gandara Park Neighborhood" of approvals by the City Planning Commission in September for the proposed preschool at 2953 Delaware Avenue in the Pico Neighborhood.

Supporters on the council said the benefits of a preschool in a family neighborhood like the one near Gandara Park outweighed concerns of those already living there, including more traffic and the possibility of opening the door to encroachment by businesses in neighborhoods zoned only for single-family homes.

Mayor Ted Winterer said allowing the proposed preschool should be a “cause for joy.”

Council Member Terry O’Day, who lives in the Pico Neighborhood, said his children attended a preschool that was fairly near home and recalled fond memories of those years.

“Yes, I understand it can be difficult to accept” a new use not intended under the original zoning, O’Day said.

“But there are benefits to (the preschool) becoming part of the fabric of the community,” he said.

The neighborhood group enjoys strong community support, including from several neighborhood organizations elsewhere in the city worried they, too, will be warding off businesses on streets zoned for single-family homes.

Laila Taslimi, a former local school teacher, is planning to convert the 1,478- square-foot home into a “Child Care and Early Education Facility,” as it is called in the staff report recommending the project .

The preschool will serve as many as 20 children with four classrooms and outdoor play areas in the front yard (765 square feet) and the rear yard (1,833 square feet, including decks).

The City’s conditional use permit allows year-round operation with regular hours of 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., with possible early drop-off from 7:30 a.m. and late pick-up by 6 p.m.

The project includes three on-site parking spaces, a loading space, an on-street short-term parking space and two short-term bike parking spaces.

Neighbors argued the preschool was setting a precedent by allowing businesses to crowd into single-family neighborhoods. The preschool also will increase traffic in an already often congested area and violates the overall land-use plan for the City, they said.

Santa Monica is already well-served by preschools, they said.

The dissenting council votes were cast by Council Members Tony Vazquez and Sue Himmelrich.

Vazquez proposed restricting the preschool to about a dozen enrollees to begin with, and then allowing it to reach 20 children if all conditions were met and the business managed to mesh with the neighborhood.

“I think we’re being very insensitive to the neighbors,” Vazquez said. “They move into a R1 neighborhood and then we tell them were going to shove something like this down their throats.”

He was unable to get the four votes of support he needed.

Himmelrich said she initially leaned toward allowing the preschool -– and then considered the dozens of special conditions the City needed to attach because preschool is not a zoned use.

It is, she said, “the wrong property.”

“All the conditions are proof,” Himmelrich said.

Council members voting to deny the neighbors’ appeal were Winterer, O’Day, Gleam Davis, Kevin McKeown and Pam O’Connor.

With Tuesday’s vote, the council specifically upheld the Planning Commission’s approval of a conditional use permit, a variance and a fence/wall modification, all of which were needed to permit the preschool to go into business. A long list of other conditions also was attached.

Dozens of speakers representing various sides showed up to plead their cases, and grumbling in the audience eventually escalated enough to warrant a warning from Winterer.

“Everybody -- take a deep breath,” he said.


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