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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.
Copyright 1999-2008 surfsantamonica.com. All Rights Reserved.
|Workshop Turns Into
Rally Against School Cuts
By Teresa Rochester
One by one parents, nurses, librarians, students and community members filed before the Board of Education Wednesday to deliver a similar message in a variety of ways: No cuts to the district's beleaguered budget are acceptable.
The crowd of adults and children -- who spilled out of the packed board room and into the halls of district headquarters -- cheered and applauded each of the 100 speakers who went before the board trying to save programs and services slated for the chopping block. The public workshop was the first of two on the district's impending multi-million dollar budget shortfall.
"The real answer is we've go to get more money in," said parent Chris Hero. "Why aren't we as a district kicking in Santa Monica, kicking down Governor Davis' door? You're the board. You should have seen this coming. Superintendent Schmidt you should have seen this coming. Things rise up in the dark but you should have had a back up plan."
Hero, the father of permit students, told the board it is ridiculous to actively recruit 335 more permit students in order to generate revenue if the board is also considering cutting services, positions and programs such as computer lab technicians and middle school counselors.
"If you cut out all of the things that make Santa Monica good, you [potential permit students] might as well stay" where they are, Hero said.
Leland Smith, part of a well organized contingent of John Muir Elementary School parents, asked the board to reconsider a cost-cutting plan to have one principal run John Muir and SMASH. The two schools share a campus but have different educational philosophies.
Smith told the board that John Muir -- which is the lowest achieving school in the district but is gaining more and more popularity and support among neighborhood families -- needs its principal Patty Flynn, who took over the position two years ago.
"I personally think it's possible for her [Flynn] to run several elementary and high schools," said Smith, who is involved with the school's African American parent group. "But we are very selfish about our principal, as I'm sure the parents from SMASH are."
"This is a recipe for disaster," said George Salem, Ph.D., a John Muir parent and USC professor. "If anything, you should be pouring money into the school instead of compromising its leadership."
Three SMASH students also asked that their principal's position be saved. Doing their part to help the district with its financial crisis, the girls had held a lemonade sale and presented Supt. Schmidt with the profits -- $27.
School nurses also defended their positions. District officials have suggested replacing them with health aides. But nurses say they do more than put band aides on skinned knees. They, not health aides, are able to diagnose illness, help prevent it and administer medication, all of which help to reduce days students are absent. Nurses also said that in the case of an earthquake or fire, they are the first lines of help for scarred children.
School members scribbled notes as they heard testimony, but have yet to decide how the information will be used to determine what cuts to the budget are actually made.
"My concern with this budget process is that the most vocal groups will be given priority and there's a possibility we might undermine our efforts in literacy when we start backing away from reading specialists and librarians," said parent activist John Petz. "The board should establish clear priorities so that there's no chance we cut fundamental educational services while preserving enrichment programs."
Copyright 1999-2008 surfsantamonica.com. All Rights Reserved.