We are writing to underscore our support for the Civic Center Joint Use Project and to emphasize the unique opportunity it represents for our community. While complementing City Hall’s plans for the Civic Center, it embodies vital community values which have been supported by voters, various boards and commissions, and the City Council and staff, time and time again — education, the arts, and sports and recreation. City planning documents … confirm the significance of these values as well. The Civic Center Joint Use Project addresses a multiplicity of community needs simultaneously, in a location that will serve the entire city.
Its scope involves collaboration between the City Council (as the Redevelopment Agency) and the school district. It is a visionary project which will bring harmony to the arts, athletic, and education communities and an opportunity for many different groups to work together for the benefit of all of us. And it is a project which addresses the remaining piece of our Civic Center, which has been overlooked until recently.
The project will rebuild the woefully inadequate athletic facilities that currently serve our community and Santa Monica High School’s student body. In so doing, it will move the soccer field currently planned for the Civic Center surface parking lot onto the Samohi site, thereby freeing up Civic Center land for other cultural and open space opportunities. A new regulation track and football/soccer/lacrosse/rugby stadium will accommodate community events which cannot currently be held in Santa Monica. A new Olympic-size pool will better serve both the high school and the city’s residents. Turfing of fields and lighting of all facilities, combined with spectator seating will increase usability and availability of all athletic venues.
This project will create a cultural synergy between the to-be-refurbished Civic Auditorium, Barnum Hall and the Greek Theater (which will become a mini-Hollywood Bowl by the sea), three venues of differing sizes and capabilities.
And it will re-connect the east and west sides of the city by means of a new bicycle path and art walk — the Michigan Promenade — which will run from Fourth Street through to Seventh Street. It will also provide whatever shared parking the city and school district determine necessary to serve the newly enhanced Civic Center.
This project presents a singular chance for City Hall and the school district to partner in a highly efficient use of school district- and city-owned land to promote widely shared community values. If RDA funds are used to fund this project, our community will have greater arts, athletic and educational facilities in a revitalized and exciting Civic Center for many years to come.
The beauty of this plan is that the whole will most definitely be greater than the sum of the parts.
Furthermore, the Samohi project has the distinct advantage that it has emerged from extensive community discussions and is very far along in the planning process. Samohi has a master plan in place and the school district has had an architect designing for its full build-out for almost two years. While continuing to be refined, the project reflects public input from parents, coaches, community members, city staff and others.
It has been shared with the Recreation & Parks Commission, the Sports Advisory Council, the Arts Commission, the school board, the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, and many others. Because the project has been publicly vetted — and because of its obvious merits — more than a thousand people have signed petitions and approximately 30 speakers showed up at the April 14 City Council meeting to advocate for the Samohi plan.
In contrast, many of the projects on city staff’s “Summary of Recommended Funding Allocations,” appear to be little more than nice ideas which have not yet been the subject of professional planning and public process. Given the limited time involved, this could pose a serious problem.
City Hall must issue bonds by 2012 in order to maximize RDA funding. Less than 32 months remain for design, bidding and public process for all RDA-funded projects. Rarely has any city project ever received all necessary approvals in that time frame. Since most of the projects currently recommended for funding are in their earliest stages of development, it requires a revision of recent city history to believe that the process necessary to meet the 2012 deadline could be completed in a timely manner for a few, let alone all, of them.
It would be more than unfortunate — it would be downright irresponsible — if City Hall were to severely underfund the Civic Center project and then forfeit RDA funds because projects that constitute mere ideas at this point were unable to be completely developed in time to meet existing RDA deadlines. (The current staff recommendation allocates $46 million of the $235 million required to complete this project, which is very far along in the planning process.) City Hall will be better served by funding a few significant projects that can actually be “shovel and bond ready” by 2012 than by allocating small amounts of money to many projects, most of which cannot be planned in the time remaining.
As an organization that formed to encourage the school board to provide stronger leadership for the school district, we now urge our city’s elected representatives to provide bold leadership for the entire community.
Please take advantage of this rare legacy opportunity and fully fund the Civic Center project.
There is no project that compares with the range of public benefits it confers upon our community.
Laurie Lieberman and Debbie Mulvaney are founding members of LEAD (Leadership Effectiveness Accountability Direction), an education advocacy group in Santa Monica.