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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

September 27, 2016 -- Despite an ongoing battle to close Santa Monica Airport, the City’s plan to expand Airport Park is moving along as scheduled and now features 12 additional acres of everything from new sports fields and places to play to picnic areas and a native meadow habitat.

After much study, the City Council on Tuesday is set to approve “conceptual direction” for the Airport Park Expansion Project, which quadruples the size of now 4-acre park adjacent to the 227-acre airport.

The design will focus “on adding amenities, including needed additional playfields, in the context of a much larger and more varied mix of active and natural park uses anticipated with the future closure of Santa Monica Airport,” a report to the council said.

Although construction of the new bigger park has a start date of spring 2018, the closure of the airport itself remains locked in a power struggle that pits the City against the federal government and aviation industry, which want the airport to remain intact.

In fact, Tuesday’s agenda includes an item in closed session devoted to the City’s anticipated exposure to litigation after serving its major aviation tenant Atlantic Aviation, with a 30-day eviction notice earlier this month ("Major Santa Monica Airport Tenant Issued Eviction Notice," September 16, 2016).

The City has been trying to shutter the airport for five decades, and in August voted to close it by the summer of 2018, if legally possible. The move triggered more threats of lawsuits to countermand the order ("Santa Monica Council Votes for 2018 Airport Closure," August 25, 2016).

In all, the ordeal has been so lengthy that expanding Airport Park is speeding along by comparison.

Last year, the council voted to add 12 acres in non-aviation parcels at SMO to Airport Park within three years. In the initial phase, which included ordering an environmental study of the airport land, the City explored three concept schemes.

Officials now favor a hybrid of the three plans that tries to balance sports and playing fields with the desire of some in the community for natural habitat.

The hybrid plan intersperses garden and green space among fenced synthetic- turf sports fields, and relocates Donald Douglas Loop to the south and west, “preventing bifurcation of the park by the roadway,” staff's report to Council said.

In response to the wishes of gardeners and others, the concept relocates 60 new community garden plots away from park edges to a more central location within the park.

“Naturally landscaped areas interspersed throughout the design incorporate vegetation selections offering shade, seasonal variation and bird and butterfly habitat, and serve as high-performance ecological counterpoints to the athletic spaces,” the report said.

In the mix would be two new regulation-sized FIFA fields, each suitable for lacrosse or three simultaneous soccer matches on each field. The plan also includes shaded spectator areas overlooking the FIFA fields close to sun-screened children's play spaces.

The report said the hybrid plan also retains the size of the existing children’s playground and dog park and, at the City Recreation and Park Commission’s request, integrates as many as six pickleball courts.

Also on Tuesday, the council was prepared to approve $1.13 million (which includes a 10 percent contingency) for more design work by Rios Clementi Hale Studios (RCHS), a California-based company, for the park expansion.

As amended, the agreement means Phase 2 design services from RCHS for the project now cannot exceed $1.32 million, with future year funding contingent on council budget approval.

Next, staff returns to the council by December 2016 with proposed guidelines and regulations for the east six acres of land for interim use until the park expansion is constructed.

Staff is to come back again in early 2018 for approval of the final design and to award a contract for construction, which would start that spring.

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