Santa Monica City Hall (File photo)

It’s not quite back to the drawing board for the name of buffer park, but naming the facility is back in the community’s hands.

The City Council chose not to officially name the park at their Jan. 26 meeting. Instead, they asked staff to return at a later date with a proposal that would officially name buffer park and also rename Stewart Park in a simultaneous motion.

The double naming was proposed as a compromise that would hopefully allow the City to recognize two local veterans, both of whom had been suggested as potential namesakes for the buffer park project.

The park was created to separate the residential neighborhood along Exposition Boulevard from the new Expo Maintenance Facility. As part of the project, staff solicited potential name ideas from the community and 135 names were submitted. Among the most popular were Toypurina Park (16 submissions); Exposition Park (or similar variation; 9 submissions); George Ishihara Memorial Park (or similar variation; 6 submissions); Santa Monica Park (5 submissions); People’s Park (4 submissions); Hachi Park (3 submissions); Nisei Park (3 submissions); Vida Park (3 submissions).

After the outreach process, community members came forward with the suggestion of Gandara Park and the recommendation before council on Jan. 26 was to go with the Gandara name.

“The name Gandara Park is recommended by the Recreation and Parks Commission to memorialize and honor Private Joe Gandara, a Santa Monica native who was fatally wounded by enemy fire in World War II at the age of 20. Although hailed a war hero, he was passed over for awards and medals at the time of his death due to his Hispanic heritage. In March 2014, Private Joe Gandara was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama in recognition of his heroism and valor,” said the staff report.

Gandara’s niece, Miriam Adams spoke during the meeting to express the family’s support for naming the park after her uncle.

However, another local veteran also had support among the crowd.

George Ishihara, a Pico Neighborhood resident, fought in the highly decorated Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II. Ishihara moved to Santa Monica in 1958 and lived here until his death in 2009.

“Japanese Americans lived in Santa Monica for over 100 years and contributed to its wealth and diversity,” said Crystal Anderson during the meeting. “This, and for numerous other reasons would suggest Santa Monica should recognize its Japanese American residents by naming the park closest to the highest number of this ethnic group after one of its residents, George Ishihara.”

Councilman Kevin McKeown said he didn’t want to debate the worthiness of the individuals and suggested the compromise.

“I’m going to recommend we name the buffer park Ishihara and concurrently give a direction to staff tonight, because it’s not on the agenda, to return with a resolution renaming Stewart park as Gandara Park,” he said.

While some councilmembers supported the concept, others were critical of the process saying any new discussion over renaming Stewart Park should have a new public input process.

“I guess I’m not convinced this is a good compromise,” said Councilwoman Pam O’Connor.

Karen Ginsberg, director of Community & Cultural Services, said the discussion would now return to the Recreation and Parks Commission for additional discussion and public input.

While some councilmembers might have a preference for naming the parks after the veterans, no decision on actual names was made this week. The new hearings will allow the public to discuss any names they want with a new set of recommendations forwarded to council.

Councilwoman O’Connor eventually voted against the motion saying she thought the council had stacked the deck prior to community engagement.

“It sounds like Council really is giving direction tonight and it should be a much more open process than it seems to be,” she said.