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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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Jailed Officer and Colleague She Shot Appeal Terminations

By Jorge Casuso

A jailed Santa Monica police officer and the colleague she shot during a love affair gone sour have both appealed City decisions to terminate them, The Lookout has learned.

Det. Linda Brown, who is serving an 111/2-year prison sentence for attempted voluntary manslaughter for the Oct. 1997 shooting, and Officer Kevin Cummings, who spent more than two years on paid leave before he was terminated last month, filed appeals with the city's Personnel Board last week.

Cummings collected more than $150,000 while an internal investigation was put on hold pending a conclusion to Brown's trial and subsequent appeal. Although Cummings admitted under oath that he had falsified testimony and threw the loaded .22-caliber gun he was shot with out his car window, he has not been charged with a crime.

City officials have kept tight-lipped about the investigation, and they remained cautious about commenting on the appeal.

A written public information request filed by The Lookout resulted in a city official directing the reporter to last Wednesday's Personnel Board Agenda, which confirmed hearing dates scheduled for both Brown and Cummings.

City officials said the only information they had received concerning the appeals were letters from the appellants requesting that hearings be scheduled.

The hearings - Cummings' is set for May 24, Brown's for June 28th - will likely shed little light on the nature of the appeals. Under the Santa Monica Municipal Code, a Personnel Board hearing can be conducted behind closed doors if the members determine that there are special circumstances.

According to the code, closed sessions can be held "in order to protect the witness from embarrassment by reason of having to testify to delicate matters or where it is demonstrated that the one testifying cannot, without being free from such embarrassment, testify to facts material to the hearing,"

According to a city official who asked to remain anonymous, a closed hearing "hasn't happened for at least 15 years."

Brown was sentenced in May after a second jury trial found her guilty of attempted murder. The jury found that Brown had shot Cummings four times in her Ladera Heights home after he broke off their extramarital affair.

Cummings told investigators different versions of a story that did not include his extramarital affair with Brown. Depending on the version, Cummings was either shot by suspects near a store, shot while on a pay phone or shot by someone who was following him.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Gary A. Nielsen told the jury that Cummings was sedated after undergoing surgery when he was interviewed by authorities. He also did not want his wife to know he had been with another woman, Nielsen said.

Although the jury convicted Brown, they said after the trail that they did not believe that Cummings was telling the truth.

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