CITY HALL — After several hours of public comment, discussion and debate, the City Council voted in a four to three decision Thursday to fund the renovation of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium using approximately $47 million of redevelopment money.

That money could be on the chopping block if Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal, which axes redevelopment agencies statewide to cover costs for MediCal and the courts, passes the legislature.

The topic was revisited Thursday after Tuesday night’s discussion stalled with two council members — Gleam Davis and Bobby Shriver — against funding the renovations, Mayor Richard Bloom, Pam O’Connor and Kevin McKeown for it, and Bob Holbrook requesting to stall the vote until he had time to review other propositions.

Within 48 hours, staff came back with six options for the future of the building, from maintaining the status quo by investing $25 million for much-needed seismic upgrades and disability-related enhancements, to creating a world class museum space for a total of $80 million.

The council also had the option to board up the building and put no money into it beyond insurance costs, or destroying it altogether.

Staff maintained its strong support for full renovations and a contract with the Nederlander Group, which runs the Pantages and Greek theaters in Hollywood, to book the auditorium.

“This exercise has been good for staff because it has forced us to reexamine this issue with greater clarity,” said City Manager Rod Gould. “To a person, we conclude the following: That the mixed use performance center is the preferred option for seven particular reasons.”

Gould proceeded to name the seven, which boiled down to a few key points — although the auditorium would operate at a loss of approximately $1 million per year, it would be cheaper than maintaining the status quo and bring approximately $18 million in additional revenue to city businesses.

On top of the economic benefits, renovating the Civic beyond the basic seismic and disability requirements would help it maintain its landmark status, preserve its staffing level and maintain a civic resource for arts and performances.

“In sum, we feel the stars have lined up for the Civic Auditorium,” Gould said. “This option will be fleeting and non-recurring. We think your best bet is to reinvest in the Civic Auditorium.”

McKeown motioned to move staff’s recommendation early in the discussion, citing a necessity to get the work under way for the health of the building.

“It’s like when people said that the Santa Monica Pier wasn’t worth saving,” McKeown said. “The pier was worth saving, and the Civic is worth saving too.”

Three council members, including Terry O’Day, fresh off his sick bed from an emergency appendectomy on Monday, felt differently.

“What I heard in the course of these two nights of discussion, it seems to me what we have in hand here as a plan for the Civic may be our best option, but I don’t know,” O’Day said. “I’m not convinced.”

The discussion shouldn’t be about the merits of preserving the Civic Auditorium, which all agreed was important, but about how to best spend the $47 million of Redevelopment Agency money.

Given that the available funds are half of what they were expected to be when the priority list that names the Civic Auditorium as a project was created, it might be better to focus RDA funds on more critical projects that address parking and circulation in the face of the coming Expo Light Rail line, O’Day said.

“The Civic is important to us, but not if the area around the Civic doesn’t work because we ran out of money to make it work,” O’Day said.

Instead, O’Day put forward the idea of using the money to push forward the reconstruction of Parking Structure 6, which is further along in its planning phases than the Civic Center rehab.

Revenue from the functioning parking center could then be used to benefit the Civic Auditorium later, freeing the council from having to make permanent decisions on the fate of the auditorium that evening.

“To me, that represents a way to protect the funding and is an outlet we should take advantage of,” O’Day said.

In the rush to spend the RDA money, the focus shifted from the real cause of the panic, Shriver said.

“People are saying ‘demolished,’ ‘the clock is ticking,’ ‘we doom it if we don’t do this.’ These are rhetorical flourishes as though this thing is going to fall down tonight if we don’t act,” Shriver said. “The only reason we’re here tonight is because of Jerry Brown. If he was not trying to take the RDA funding, we wouldn’t be here.”

On the other side of the issue were Bloom, McKeown, O’Connor and a subdued Holbrook, the four that would eventually carry McKeown’s motion to fund the mixed-use version of the auditorium.

The Civic needs at least the basic improvements at a minimum, else it will fall into disrepair, O’Connor said, a point confirmed by Gould.

“If we do not program $25 million, we are signing a demolition permit,” she said.

O’Day acknowledged the need and put forward a motion to invest the $25 million needed to retrofit the building, and reserve the remainder of the money for Parking Structure 6.

That motion was voted down in favor of the full funding.

Members of the community present at the meeting to show support for the Civic celebrated the win.

“I’m thrilled,” said Mike Myers, associate director of the Ruskin Theater.

Spending the $25 million just to do the basic upgrades wouldn’t have cut it, Myers said.

“No, that would have been a real waste of money. It would have stayed as is, a place for dog and cat shows, but then it would be a safe place for dog and cat shows.”

ashley@www.smdp.com

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