Editor:

The Zoning Ordinance articulates technical rules for land use, but also reinforces the broad policy priorities of our city. It will be in place for the next several decades, and its policy and practical roles and its short-term and long-term impacts will be felt for many years.

The Santa Monica Child Care & Early Education Task Force has followed the process of updating the Zoning Ordinance. We applaud the systematic approach and attention to detail that has characterized the effort, and we are in general agreement with the resulting updates. The Task Force would like to draw your attention to a few remaining issues and ask for your consideration.

Allow us to begin with a general observation that for over 30 years, Santa Monica has demonstrated an understanding of and commitment to the importance of early childhood education (ECE). We have been a leader in this regard, and it has been gratifying to see that the rest of the country and the world are catching up. During these years, the storehouse of rigorous evidence has grown tremendously about the short- and long-term effects of preschool programs on children’s school readiness and life outcomes (e.g., graduation rates, securing and retaining jobs, lower rates of criminal behavior), and the positive return on investment of ECE for individuals and for communities. In 2014, a letter signed by more than 1,200 researchers from 34 countries and every state in the United States, sponsored by the National Institute for Early Education Research, summarized: “An extensive body of research in education, developmental psychology, neuroscience, medicine and economics shows that quality early childhood education programs produce better education, health, economic and social outcomes for children, families, and the nation.”

In both his 2014 and 2015 State of the Union addresses, President Obama lifted up early childhood as a national priority. In March 2015, ReadyNation, an organization of more than 1,100 business leaders worldwide, sent a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon stating, “…we write to stress the vital importance of the early childhood years as creating the foundation for life-long health and productivity in all countries…Children’s experiences before birth and during the first five years of life lay the crucial foundation for a productive citizenry that can contribute to solving the world’s pressing challenges.”

We urge Santa Monica to continue its leadership and consistent support of early education throughout our city.

Our specific issues for the Zoning Ordinance update are:

In light of the policy position that Santa Monica has maintained about the importance of ECE, we believe strongly that it is a symbolic step backward to disallow early education centers in single- family residential districts (R-1 and OP-1). We urge you to retain this use subject to the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) process. Although the cost of real estate in Santa Monica limits the feasibility of child care and early education centers in single-family residential neighborhoods, it is important to retain the option for locating ECE facilities of all types close to the places where children live. The CUP process is designed to review land use proposals in the context of particular locations, comparing the proposed use with the specific circumstances, limitations and concerns of the neighborhood. Rather than compromising the city’s policy position on early childhood by preempting facilities in certain neighborhoods, this is an opportunity to confirm the city’s policy stance, but provide safeguards for neighborhoods against inappropriate placement of a facility through a rigorous CUP process.

We believe that cutting off the hours of supervised outdoor play for large family home day care at 6 p.m. creates a hardship for many working parents. For them, it is often difficult to pick up children by 6:00 pm. Allowing children to be outdoors during daylight hours, at least up to 8 p.m., is a reasonable policy. We ask that you allow supervised outdoor play, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

We question the necessity of extending the proximity restriction for large family home day care from within 100 feet to within 300 feet. The 100-foot restriction has been in force for decades and we are not aware of a trend of incidents that would suggest the need for increasing the barriers to providing child care in residential neighborhoods.

To summarize:

The Santa Monica Child Care & Early Education Task Force disagrees with reducing the availability of early education opportunities through new restrictions in the Zoning Ordinance. Specifically, we recommend that you continue to trust the CUP process to let neighborhoods decide on future child care center sites: Don’t eliminate the option to consider new walkable sites within neighborhoods.

Support working families by allowing outdoor play from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Leave the proximity limit at 100 feet (versus the proposal to increase it to 300 feet).

On behalf of the Santa Monica Child Care & Early Education Task Force, we thank you for keeping early childhood education high on the list of the city’s priorities!

Laura Osorio and Jenny Trickey, Co-Chairs

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