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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.
| School Board Banks
on District's Allure
By Teresa Rochester
District officials are so confident Santa Monica and Malibu schools have drawing power they are banking their budget on it.
Board of Education members based the 2000/2001 school year budget on 12,500 students -- 335 more than enrollment projections, released Thursday, predicted.
Counting the additional students assumes the success of a Dec. 16 board decision requesting that staff seek out the specified number of students to bolster school rolls and inject the district's cash-strapped unrestricted general fund budget with $1.4 million in state funding.
Supt. Neil Schmidt told The Lookout Wednesday that the campaign to recruit permit students is working and "hundreds if not thousands" have expressed interest. He reiterated the news to board members Thursday night.
Processing hopeful permit students - who are given entrance preference if they have siblings in the district, are the children of district, city or agency employees, or have parents who work in the city -- will begin in April.
But some parents and district officials are wary of basing a budget, which has fallen short two years in a row, on a goal that may or may not be achieved.
"We're still spending money based on 12,5000 students that we still don't have," Board member Dorothy Chapman said Tuesday. "How many permits have we actually issued? We're spending money we haven't got. The money isn't real. Why aren't we building a budget on 12,100 kids that we know we have."
"We're balancing next year's budget on the head of a pin," said David Cole, co-chair of the neighborhood group Mid City Neighbors and a member of the PTA Council.
Critics argue that it would be wiser to base the budget on the more conservative enrollment projections despite the fact it that projections for the current school year fell short and resulted in an potential $5 million budget shortfall. The enrollment projections for next year predict a total enrollment of 12,156.
A report prepared by Assistant Superintendent Art Cohen and delivered to board members states that "over the past 10 years, these projections have averaged within 1.875 percent of the actual second month enrollment. In 4 of the last 10 years, the projections were within 1 percent in 1 of the last 10 years the projection was within 2 percent in 3 of the last 10 years the projections were within 3 percent in 1 of the last 10 years the projection was within 4 percent the accuracy of the projections were 97 percent or better."
Parents Donna Block and Sheila Forsander told the board that pumping permit students into the district was not the answer.
"For eight years I have watched the district drift further and further out to sea," Block said. "Permits should be used only when classrooms sit empty. Who's hair brained idea was this? I was flabbergasted when I heard this. We're already bursting at the seams."
"Making the pie bigger doesn't lessen the problem," Forsander said. "We're doing this for kids who don't even live in the neighborhood. We need to take care of our own first."
Thursday night's board meeting also was attended by parents keeping up the battle to save school programs from being axed from the district's budget. One plan officials have suggested as a way to save money is to have one principal for John Muir Elementary and Santa Monica Alternative School, which share a campus but little else.
The learning and teaching philosophies of the two schools are as different as night and day. Muir, which has one of the more ethnically and economically diverse student bodies in the district, is a traditional school while SMASH uses a learning-by-doing-and-experiencing approach. Following the lead set by SMASH parents at the last board meeting, John Muir parents urged the board not to take their principal away from them.
"John Muir is a neighborhood school just starting to attract those in the neighborhood," parent June Stoddard said. "For too many years it has had a reputation of being at the bottom of the district and most parents chose inter-district permits or private schools. [Principal] Patty Flynn has been a great leader in turning the flight from the neighborhood around . We will lose Patty if you cut SMASH's principal. She doesn't want to be an administrator. She is a leader and cannot lead two visions at once."
"It's a design for failure and divisiveness," said parent Susan Salem, Ph.D. "You will also have an open position because neither principal wants it."
Copyright 1999-2008 surfsantamonica.com. All Rights Reserved.