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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.
Survey Shows Department Store on Target with Residents
By Jorge Casuso
Developers of a proposed Target store in Santa Monica released a survey Wednesday that shows strong resident support for a branch of the moderately priced retailer in the heart of downtown.
Conducted in December by a well-known local research firm, the survey indicates that seven out of 10 Santa Monica residents favor the store. The national retailer is slated to go up on the old Hensheys Department Store lot behind Toys 'R Us on the corner of Fifth Street and Santa Monica Boulevard.
"It comes down to an affordable option that many think is more than an option, it's a need," said Carolyn A. Brookter, manager of media relations for Target.
The survey of 400 Santa Monica residents identified the following reasons for support of the proposed store:
· 83 percent said people wouldn't have to travel outside Santa
Monica to find a good quality/moderate priced retail store.
"The primary reason is the convenience," said Richard Maullin, whose firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maulin & Associates conducted the survey for Target. "People really want it. The people that assume that it will bring aggravation still want it. People on lower incomes really want it."
The proposed Target store promises to be a key issue in the November race for four open City Council seats. Unlike the living wage proposal - which is viewed as targeting larger businesses - the proposed store threatens to split residents.
Supporters of the store contend the Target will provide a much-needed affordable department store to help fill the gap left by the demise of Hensheys, Penny's and Woolworths in the downtown area.
Opponents fear that the three-story, 125,000 square-foot store with 572 parking spaces will only bring more traffic downtown, adding to the growing gridlock and parking woes.
The survey - which is being touted by Target representatives at a series of meetings Wednesday -- bolsters the developer's contention that Santa Monicans believe the benefits outweigh the costs. It found that:
· 71 percent of those who said downtown parking is a serious problem
favor the development on the proposed site.
The survey is a cornerstone for a community-based lobbying campaign being mounted by Target, which is based in Minnesota.
Representatives of the store have taken community leaders on a tour of their Pasadena Store. They also are highlighting the community benefits of the store, which allows Target Guest Cardholders to designate one percent of their card purchases to a public school of their choice.
The Environmental Impact Report for the project could be completed as early as March, Target officials predict, with public hearings perhaps beginning in June. This would put the project on track to reach the council by fall, likely making it a key local election issue.
Copyright 1999-2008 surfsantamonica.com. All Rights Reserved.