Supporters of a multi-use sports facility found themselves on thin ice this week when Council excluded a potential ice rink from the first wave of park construction at Santa Monica Airport.
The County of Los Angeles is conducting a study to assess park needs in all municipalities and unincorporated areas. The results of that study will be used to develop a list of priority park projects and that list will become the basis for potential future bond funding similar to the Proposition A bond measure that passed in 1992.
Santa Monica is one of 189 study areas participating and local input has been gathered by staff, at public meetings and at the Recreation and Parks Commission.
The culmination of the local process was a presentation to the City Council on March 22 prioritizing a set of park projects. Council approved a staff recommended list that included fields at the Civic Center, expansion of Memorial Park, expansion of parkland at the airport, opening Mt. Olivette reservoir to the public, renovating Stewart Street Park and prioritizing acquisition of new land citywide for future parks projects.
According to the presentation, about 72 percent of Santa Monicans live within a half mile of a park providing significantly better access than the county average of 49 percent. However, the city only has 134 park acres for a population of 92,529 or about 1.4 park acres per 1,000 residents, about half the county average of 3.3 acres.
There’s no guarantee the county moves forward with a funding mechanism nor is there any requirement such a measure will actually fund the specified projects. Rather, participation in the study provides a broad roadmap for countywide planners and staff said it would also provide clarity for Santa Monica’s own park planning process.
A proposal to specify a new multi-purpose sports facility at the Airport was removed from the recommendation. While the Recreation and Parks Commission had supported a proposal for a new facility that could include an ice rink, sports field and other amenities, Council sided with staff who said the city has already made promises to convert the first 12 acres of land at the airport into an open park. Council voiced support for locating such a facility somewhere in Santa Monica, even possibly at the Airport, but said mandating a multi-use facility on either of the sites currently earmarked could delay completion of the park process that was promised to voters in 2014 when residents passed Measure LC.
Supporters of an ice rink brought several speakers to the meeting.
Dr. Steve Weinberg was one of the speakers representing Bring Back The Ice, a regional group supporting construction of a new ice rink on the Westside. He said professional sports teams are eager to find a home for a multi-use facility.
“The Los Angeles Kings and the LA Galaxy have an intent to build it somewhere,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for you, the city and the local community to fill the void in ice facilities as well as field sports facilities.”
Shay Beebe said she spoke on behalf of the Kings/Galaxy organizations and said if the city were to officially consider a proposal, the professional sports teams could easily pay for and build a facility.
“We would build something green, state of the art with many, many community amenities,” she said.
Several Santa Monica residents spoke on behalf of other priorities. Several were specific in asking council to forego endorsing the multi-use facility at this point.
Andrew Gledhill said parents of Santa Monica kids were eager for new parks and it was important for the City to keep its promise to residents to convert 12 acres of former aircraft parking into an open park.
“While the city needs an ice rink and more swimming pools, lets please stay with the plan,” he said. “Lets turn the first 12 acres at the airport into a park so everyone sees promises are kept and lets do it while those children are still small.”
Community Garden supporters said there are more than 300 people on the waiting list for a plot with some waiting more than eight years. They said including gardens helps the environment, promotes wellbeing and meets a strong community desire.
“I really want this city council to appreciate the imperative to have community gardens in as many parks as possible,” said Cris Gutierrez.
Council unanimously approved a motion by Mayor Pro Tem Ted Winterer that removed the multi-use facility from the priority list and added emphasis to acquiring new property for parks.
“I think we need to be somewhat generic in what we suggest because we don’t know what we’re going to be able to afford to do, but I do think land acquisition should be part of it,” said Councilman Kevin McKeown.
Councilwoman Sue Himmelrich supported the motion but said buying more land for parks created some internal tension when existing land isn’t being used for open space.
“When we’re confronted with pieces of land we already have, and I’m thinking specifically of 4th and 5th and Arizona and other pieces of land, instead of using it for this open space that we so desperately need, we want to build buildings on it,” she said.