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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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Powerful Police Union Leader and Local Political Force Retires to Take State Post

By Jorge Casuso

Santa Monica Police union leader Sgt. Steven Brackett, who for two decades has helped shape local politics, will leave the police department he is widely credited with turning into one of the highest paid forces in the nation.

A 32-year veteran of the department, Brackett, 53, will retire to join the state's Youthful Offender Parole Board, which appraises youthful law offenders and delinquents and evaluates their progress towards reform.

Brackett, who was backed by the state's most powerful law enforcement organizations, was appointed to the $95,859 post by Gov. Gray Davis on Friday. If confirmed by the State Senate, Brackett will join the seven-member board on March 13.

"This is a real loss for the city and the department, but I'm happy for him and for the people of the state," said Mayor Ken Genser. "He's an amazingly bright guy who has done incredibly well as a union representative but is also very insightful about what's going on in Santa Monica."

"The city of Santa Monica is losing a dedicated employee, but the state, and particularly the governor, will be served well by Steve," said police Chief James T. Butts Jr. "Every assignment I have ever given him he has performed with diligence and competence."

Brackett's retirement marks the end of a family tradition that spanned three generations --his father and grandfather also served on the SMPD.

"This is the end of a big era," said Brackett. "It's a little disconcerting," he said about making the decision, "but you have to take advantage of new chapters in life when they come along. I have many fond memories of the people of the city and the people of the department."

In his two decades as a union leader (he served eight separate one-year terms as president), Brackett turned the Santa Monica Police Officers Association into a savvy bargaining unit and powerful local political force.

Under Brackett's leadership, the union was instrumental in electing council members from rival factions. The union also was bipartisan in its opposition, mounting hard-hitting campaigns that helped defeat former Mayor Christine Reed - a leading rent control opponent - as well as former Councilman Tony Vazquez, a champion of renters' rights.

Over the years, the union's clout would make the city's 200-member force perhaps the highest paid police department in the nation. Under Brackett's leadership, the union successfully negotiated unprecedented salary guarantees and a lucrative overtime policy that contributed to a quarter of the force earning more than $100,000 in 1996.

"You're paying for what you get - highly motivated, creative people - and you've got to pay to maintain them," Brackett once said.

As a political force, Brackett also fought several major developments that increased traffic, was instrumental in the union's backing of several school bonds and championed environmental causes, particularly those affecting Santa Monica Bay.

"I hope if I am remembered it will be because I tried to balance my position as an officer and a supervisor with that of a union leader in a fair way," Brackett said.

Brackett emerged as a union leader during the 1979 police walk-out, the first and only one in the city's history. Though the results were questionable, Brackett's smooth style marked a break with that of the old stereotypical cigar-chomping union leader.

Still, despite the visibility that came with his position, Brackett remained self-effacing and highly private, and was often the subject of contrasting views.

Former City Manager Charles Kent McClain, who locked horns with Brackett over contract negotiations, once called him "a kind of chameleon who puts on the persona he thinks is going to get the most." On the other hand, former City Attorney Robert Myers once called him "a dedicated police officer who does what he does out of commitment and principles."

In recent years, Bracket was engaged in a behind-the-scenes struggle with the city's police chief. Asked about the relationship, Brackett said, "Oh well, it's going to be someone else's gauntlet to grab and run with."

Before being named last year to head the city's Animal Control Unit, Brackett served five years as a patrol officer and detective, and 26 years as a sergeant, detective sergeant, narcotics sergeant and acting lieutenant. He won the Medal of Courage Award from the city in 1993.

Rumors that Brackett would be appointed to the state post had been circulating for nearly a year. A member of the Peace Officers Research Association of California since 1967, Brackett had the statewide support necessary to land the post. He also had the backing of the California Alliance of Law Enforcement Agents and California Coalition of Law Enforcement Agents, of which he also is a member.

Because the post calls for hearings across the state, Brackett plans to remain in his San Fernando home.

But the Santa Monica native, who attended local grade schools and graduated from Santa Monica High School and Santa Monica College, plans to retain his ties to the city his mother still calls home.

The Lookout staff contributed to this report.

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