After some debate over lease restrictions for the proposed early childhood education center, City Council unanimously approved amended guidelines for the project.

The proposed building height will jump from 25 feet to 40 feet, allowing 10 more kids to attend the program, which will be run by Santa Monica College.

Council agreed on the height changes for the project, which is scheduled to break ground in 2017, but argued over other restrictions.

The project is slated to be built on public land within Santa Monica’s Civic Center. That land will be rented to SMC for $1. For this reason, a majority of City Hall’s leverage comes from terms that will be negotiated in the ground lease.

Councilmember Sue Himmelrich asked that council add restrictions, requiring that the school stay open later — a recommendation from the Santa Monica think tank Rand’s report — and that a percentage of slots be held open for Santa Monica residents and low-income families.

City officials explained that the hours, which are currently proposed to be from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. but which Himmelrich suggested should be 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., are largely a cost issue, to be determined by the operator.

“I’m sure there’s a cost,” Himmelrich responded, “but if this is going to be what we dream it’s going to be, we need to have hours that accommodate working parents and 6 p.m. does not do it.”

Council ultimately declined to add opening and closing time requirements and city officials said they could revisit the operating hours if, after the center opens, it seems that there is a strong demand for later hours.

Councilmember Gleam Davis, the most effusive advocate of the center at council’s Tuesday night meeting, flinched at the idea of requiring a percentage of the families to be Santa Monica residents. Some years, she said, there is less demand than others based on birth rates and other factors. She expressed a fear that hard and fast rules would lead to empty slots.

Ultimately, council agreed that a certain percentage of Santa Monica residents could be given preference and that no student who’s already been enrolled in the program should be bumped from the program, regardless of residency.

No amendments were made regarding low-income families.

City officials noted that this might be a moot because the intention is for the program to be majority Santa Monica residents.

Council agreed that the operator should be a nonprofit.

Mayor Pro Tempore Tony Vazquez asked that SMC reach out to minority-run construction companies when it comes time to build the project. He also suggested that the college pay into a tuition subsidy program, given that they are renting the land for next to nothing.

Davis, whose son was shaped, she said, by his time at the Marine Park Child Development Center, said the program would serve as more than simply child care.

“It will help close the achievement gap that plagues our schools,” she said. “It will reduce the need for special education in our K through 12 programs, it will lead to higher graduation rates, it will lead to better college attendance and college graduation rates, and lead to better overall academic performance for every one of the kids who are lucky enough to be able to attend there.”

dave@www.smdp.com

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