CITY HALL — Residents of a seaside condominium complex clashed with commissioners at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting over a playground upgrade that they fear will attract homeless, gangs and traffic.
Speakers took to the podium after a glowing staff presentation on the proposal for the city’s first universally accessible playground, a play area specifically designed so that children with disabilities can play on it as readily as those without.
The 20,000-square-foot playground conceived by design team Katherine Spitz Associates Inc. would replace a sand play area, picnic tables, turf area and palm trees that already occupy the site with a play area that looks like a buried clipper ship complete with sails and images of marine life.
According to the staff report, sails would provide shade and the hulls, decks and areas around the ship would provide places for the kids to play with traditional playground equipment like slides and swings as well as sea-themed features like periscopes and sandboxes.
Sea Colony residents, however, took a dim view of the proposal.
Musical instruments became noisemakers, the location too close to gang activity and the ship’s hull a place for the homeless to sleep — or worse, fornicate.
“If there was ever a foreseeable hazard, this is it,” said resident Steve Unger. “My mind boggles at the crime, lawsuits and inevitable liability to Santa Monica taxpayers that this wrongheaded project would cause.”
One resident even spoke of the biohazard of homeless people having sex in ships where children would later play.
Alan Toy, a former social services commissioner and Rent Control board member who is disabled, was having none of it.
“I’ve never heard of ‘not in my public beach,’ but NIMBY-ism has taken on a new tone tonight,” Toy said.
The community has been waiting for over two decades for a playground that serves children with special needs, he said.
“We’re finally getting a nice, good, accessible playground,” he said. “While there’s always a better place to do something, this is a remarkable design.”
Proponents did warn of safety issues relating to the proposed playground’s proximity to the Marvin Braude Beach Bike Path, a highly-traveled area by bicyclists that children and adults would have to cross to get to adjacent bathrooms.
Christopher Knauf, a disabilities lawyer and member of the Disabilities Commission, called it “a bit of fine tuning.”
“We want to ensure that the design team has fully looked at the issue of safety,” Knauf said. “It’s definitely been on our mind since the location was chosen, and we know it’s been on the city staff’s mind.”
It was certainly on the City Council’s mind.
Councilmember Bobby Shriver recounted a frightening encounter between a bicyclist and his own child on a portion of the bike path near the Annenberg Community Beach House.
“Unless that problem is somehow solved, I would be reluctant to vote for this,” Shriver said.
Staff will be looking at a wide range of possibilities to keep kids safe from fast-moving bikers, said Community and Cultural Services Director Karen Ginsberg.
“Everything from relocating and moving the bike path to things that Manhattan Beach has done in terms of slowing bikes down,” Ginsberg said Wednesday, referring to a portion of the bike path in the other seaside town where bicyclists must dismount and walk in a particularly congested area.
Council members promised to keep residents’ complaints about gang and homeless safety in mind, but chided them for their lack of respect for other speakers at the podium.
That didn’t sit well with Warren Bennis, a 30-year resident of Seaside Colony and professor at both USC and Harvard University.
“We were not consulted early on,” Bennis said. “I don’t do playdates. This is a dangerous place, and now it will get more dangerous.”
According to real estate agent Peter Sales, Sea Colony has 153 units and 24-hour manned security.
Two meetings were held at Sea Colony regarding the playground, in addition to other public meetings, according to the staff report.
“What I would say is what Mayor [Richard] Bloom said last night,” Ginsberg said. “Every park or public facility goes through this type of situation, a not-in-my-back-yard situation, regardless of size or character.”
Staff gathered contact information for residents and are committed to keeping them in the loop, Ginsberg said.