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City Preps Residents to Defend Beach Parking Zones

By Jorge Casuso

On the surface, it seemed just another meeting of city staff and their constituents.

But with seven Ocean Park preferential parking zones on the line - all of them more than 10 years old -, Saturday's meeting at the Ken Edwards Center was anything but routine.

Instead of just providing information and listening to concerns, planning department staff helped coach and organize some three dozen residents for a crucial Coastal Commission meeting Tuesday morning.

After a year's delay, the commission finally will decide the fate of 936 preferential parking spaces south of Pico Boulevard and east of Lincoln Boulevard that were created by the city without commission approval between 1983 and 1989. The commission discovered the spaces in 1998, while considering the Edgemar Development project on Main Street.

"Don't be exclusionary," Planning Director Suzanne Frick advised the residents. "What is important is to put a face on this issue. We don't want to alienate this commission."

Among the key points city staff encouraged residents to make are the dearth of street parking, the availability of parking in beach lots and the make up of the community (it is not just rich homeowners).

Residents who spoke at Saturday's meeting said they feared that if preferential parking is revoked they wouldn't be able to move their cars or entertain guests, especially on weekends, because there will often be nowhere to park near their homes.

"I can't leave during the day, but there are empty spaces on the beach," said one resident who lives in a zone near Main Street with no daytime restrictions. "As usual, the residents are going to be caught in the middle of this squabble."

While there are 2,400 spaces in Ocean Park's two beach lots, it costs $7 to park ($6 during the winter.) By comparison, unrestricted street parking is free.

Frick, however, warned against bringing up the underused lot, saying that lowering the rates - which already are cheaper than the rates at Venice Beach and Will Rogers State Park - is not on the table.

She did encourage residents who blamed the parking woes not on beach goers, but on employees and customers of Main Street businesses, to speak out on Tuesday.

"It's a major impact," said Roger Genser, a 22-year resident of Ocean Park who helped organize the first Ocean Park zone in 1983. "It was a reaction against Main Street. It had nothing to do with beach parking."

Tuesday's decision will center on whether Santa Monica's zones restrict access to the beach, which the Coastal Commission was created in 1976 to protect.

Commission staff has recommended that the seven zones be retained - with the caveat that the city must reapply for the permits in three years. The city opposes that condition, saying it would be too costly, inhibit long-range planning and leave residents in limbo. Instead city staff is proposing to conduct a parking monitoring program and file a report within five years.

Commission staff also is requiring the city to create 154 spaces to help replenish those taken up by preferential parking. Of these, 65 already have been created. The city also must keep the Tide and Pier beach shuttles running during the summer months.

While Coastal Commission staff seems sympathetic to the plight of beach area residents, it is impossible to predict what the commission will do, Frick said. One warning sign was a complaint by a commissioner who visited the beach to watch the sunset and found no place to park.

"We've been discussing this with the staff for a year and a half," Frick said. "I think this really boils down to philosophical issues with the commission."

Although the city has been negotiating with commission staff, it also has made it clear that it is prepared to file a lawsuit if the commission revokes the zones.

"We have a difference of legal opinion as to whether the Coastal Commission even has authority," Frick said. "We would prefer to go through the process and have a positive outcome."

Since the Coastal Act was passed in 1976, the Coastal Commission has required cities to apply for permits for the special parking zones.

Historically, the Coastal Commission has granted permission for preferential parking zones in coastal communities, often imposing strict conditions to ensure plenty of public parking and beach access.

Since 1982 the commission has approved three applications from Hermosa Beach, Santa Cruz and Capitola. The commission, however, has denied preferential parking permits for Santa Monica's closest neighbors - Venice to the south and Pacific Palisades to the north.

In 1998 approximately 7.5 million visitors flocked to Santa Monica beaches. Over the past 28 years beach attendance has grown by 20 percent.

City Manager Susan McCarthy, who did not attend the meeting, said it would be "unforgivable" if residents weren't prepared given what's at stake.

"The Coastal Commission has a relatively clear mission laid out in the law, and in this situation, it may not be a mission that is sympathetic," McCarthy said. "This would certainly be a profound change."

The Coastal Commission will meet Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the Four Points Sheraton, 530 Pico Blvd.

Staff writer Teresa Rochester contributed to this report.

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Malibu Considers Attaching Strings to School Grant

By Teresa Rochester

Nothing is for free. Just ask the Malibu City Council.

Unlike Santa Monica's anticipated $2.1 million bailout, Malibu's $150,000 grant to the beleaguered school district its council is set to approve Monday night comes with a potential host of strings attached.

While Santa Monica is only asking that the district set up an oversight committee, Malibu's council members will be presented with a list of 16 possible conditions to consider at its meeting in the wealthy beach city.

They range from the city reimbursing the district based on itemized invoices to assure the funds have been used for the intended purposes, to the implementation of long-range solutions to the district's financial problems. The plan would have to be adopted by June 30, 2001, and cannot rely on future funding from the city of Malibu or the district would have to return all the funds distributed during the fiscal year.

Malibu, which gave the district $5,000 last year, compared to the more than $2 million by Santa Monica, also is stipulating that the district spend all of the city's money on Malibu schools.

Other conditions the council will consider are:

· City use of Malibu High School's auditorium for free.

· The deed to Malibu Canyon, Big Rock and vacant High School lots. The city currently leases the empty properties from the district for a dollar per property a year, saving the district from state-imposed fines for unused sites.

· Free home-to-school transportation for all Malibu Children (current charge is $115 per semester).

· Salvaging the position of Pt. Dume School Principal or any school nurses assigned to Malibu schools and restricting funds to support only certain programs such as music, health, sports and custodial services. Funding specific employee positions, such as school nurse, librarian and music aide.

In his report to the city council, City Manager Harry Peacock states the proposed conditions, which were suggested by the council and staff, should be viewed as talking points.

"None," he writes in a report, "have been analyzed in terms of whether or not the district can legally act on these conditions."

However temporary or tenuous the conditions are, they sit in stark contrast to Santa Monica's approach to its $2.1 million bailout grant for the district. The Santa Monica City Council -- which already gives more than $2 million to the schools -- came to a stalemate last week after its members failed to agree on whether the city or the district should mandate a financial oversight committee to watch over district finances.

Proponents for the district taking the matter into its own hands argued they did not want to hamstring the district by forcing tough conditions on it. Those supporting city mandated oversight countered that the district has discovered three separate multi-million dollar budget shortfalls in the last 18 months and cannot be trusted with the bailout money. The council will take up the matter again at its meeting on Tuesday.

Peacock said that Malibu's city attorney recommended that conditions be placed on the grant and cautioned the council that they need to make sure they are getting their money's worth.

"What they [city council] have to find is the city getting value out of its contribution," Peacock said. "Is it of value to the community? You can't give a gift of public money. You have to make a finding that you're getting something in return."

Peacock also noted that Malibu gives the district $5,000 a year that goes toward programs such as bilingual education and student counseling at Malibu schools. The city also spends $23,000 a year for the maintenance and operation of the Malibu High School swimming pool. The city paid for half of the original construction of the pool, and it counts support in the form of Lottery Funds and PTA contributions.

Of the 12,156 students in the Santa Monica/Malibu Unified School district, 20 percent come from Malibu. Peacock said that of the approximately 5,000 school age children in the city, only 300 go to private schools.

Santa Monica City Councilman Robert Holbrook opposes the idea of Malibu restricting its grant to its schools.

"I was surprised," Holbrook said about the staff report. "It's really hard-line. It would be a really bad idea for Malibu to restrict the funds only to Malibu schools. Malibu parents lobby us all the time not to do that. If we did, Santa Monica would come out the big winners."

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