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Santa Monica Inches Forward with Civic Center Sports Field  

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Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

March 2, 2017 -- The City of Santa Monica Tuesday continued to inch toward creating a sports field on a now-packed parking lot at the Civic Center, despite major hurdles on financing the proposal and strong concerns from the California Coastal Commission.

Although the City is going ahead with a $47,025 contract for initial feasibility work, the City Council was still torn Tuesday on whether to opt for the temporary, $3.5-million field parents have lobbied for over the last 15 years, or with an up-to-$85 million permanent version -- an idea that emerged in subsequent talks between City and school district staff.

Tuesday’s study session was filled –- as usual -– with frustrated parents and others who want the field for nearby Santa Monica High School, which is short on space for sports.

Last May, the group scored a big victory when the council promised to help, and City Manager Rick Cole posted a stepped-up schedule with construction starting in 2018 ("Santa Monica Council Earmarks $3.5 Million for Temporary Playing Field," May 26, 2016).

But that seems unlikely now, as the City and the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District(SMMUSD) delve more into a jointly financed permanent field.

The turn of events is causing additional delays, parents noted, and is likely to mean a bond requiring a public vote.

If such a bond fails at the ballot box, “you’ve got zip,” said preservation activist Bruce Cameron, who supports the revitalization of the adjacent Civic Auditorium. “This is nuts. This is absolutely crazy.”

Others, tired of the long wait, pressed for the temporary field so play could begin sooner. One supporter was both fed up and resigned.

“Whatever you do, please get going on it,” said Zina Josephs, another member.

Meanwhile, administrators from the Los Angeles County Courthouse downtown said they were worried about the impact on parking if a sports field is installed on the parking lot. Under a 2004 agreement with the City, 175 parking spaces are reserved for employees.

About 1,200 people are in and out of the court house daily, they said, and many also use the lot.

Tuesday’s session was primarily an update on the entangled project and included bad news from the California Coastal Commission.

The panel’s approval is necessary because of the sports field’s potential impact on parking close to the beach.

In a January 17 meeting with City officials, commissioners “expressed concerns regarding mitigating the loss of parking and made it clear that any required mitigation would need to be implemented to coincide with the construction of the temporary field,” the update to the council said.

Moreover, “it would not be acceptable (to the commission) to delay mitigation of the loss of parking to a future permanent solution,” the report said.

“They also expressed that they generally do not consider an 8-10 year timeframe as a temporary use,” the update said.

Although the commissioners said they would “keep an open mind, they cautioned that a loss of parking that impacts beach access -- even if labeled as temporary -- could impact the timing for other improvements in the area and especially the repurposing of the Civic Auditorium,” the report said

“Lack of adequate parking availability could potentially preclude new activity, leaving the Civic dormant for many years in the future,” it said.

The commission is requesting a comprehensive analysis of the impact the field will have on beach access, and related information.

Originally, the City was considering a 60 x 110-yard playing field for Samohi soccer and lacrosse, plus side-line space, and temporary fencing, lighting and bathrooms in a trailer. The council reserved $200,000 in initial funding for the project and said it would reserve more in future budgets.

Then, last October, the first batch of design bids came in. One was as high as $531,400, noting that to replace the 600 parking spots the field would displace, two levels of subterranean parking were needed. Doing so meant relocating sewer and utility lines, a City report to the council said.

At that point, the field’s estimated price tag rocketed to between $80 million and $85 million, and officials are looking to SMMUSD to help.

The parking lot in question has 1,000 spaces and is used mostly by workers at City Hall, the County Courthouse, Samohi and those using the Civic Center auditorium, which is still closed but available for special events.

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