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An athletic field remains part of the plan for the Civic Auditorium site, but when that field might get built remains an open question.

At their Feb. 9 meeting, the Council said they were committed to a field at the corner of 4th Street and Pico Boulevard, but no definitive action was taken to begin work on a field. Instead, Council directed staff to return with some kind of cost estimate, potential funding sources and a plan to work with community partners on a field project.

The discussion was scheduled to discuss recommendations from the Civic Working Group regarding plans for the Civic site and while the agenda item wasn’t specific to discussion of a field at the location, an outpouring of concerned residents refocused the debate on the City’s need for additional play fields.

100 individuals filed requests to speak about the topic and in over four hours of public comment almost every speaker asked for or demanded construction of a field on the current site of a parking lot at 4th and Pico. Students, parents, coaches, neighborhood representatives, private citizens, members of the school board, college board representatives, members of the Civic Working Group and just about everyone else asked for a commitment to a new field at the civic site.

City Hall has been trying to redevelop the property for decades with several plans failing to come to fruition. The most recent document, drafted in 2005, specifically calls for a field on the site, but residents were concerned the field was in jeopardy due to a recommendation from the Civic Working Group that acknowledged the community desire for a field, but fell short of mandating a field as part of the potential reopening of the Civic Auditorium.

Councilman Terry O’Day praised the CWG for their work and said the way the council created the CWG was partly to blame for the concern over the field.

“When the working group was established they were given the task to consider the future of the civic as the hub of a new mixed-use cultural district, and perhaps that is partly how the process got a bit off track and I just want to acknowledge our part in that,” he said.

Council accepted the CWG report on Feb. 9 with a decision to seek proposals for a private operator to take over the Civic Auditorium, but they also attempted to show their commitment to a field.

State law limits detailed discussion to items specifically outlined on their agenda which in this case referred to soliciting bids to operate the building, however Council did address the concerns of citizens through directions to staff.

In a 6-0 vote, with Councilwoman Pam O’Connor absent, council directed staff to return with financial information related to construction of a temporary field at the site. Staff expect to return to council at or before the May budget process with a detailed consideration of a temporary field including potential partners for the project.

In addition, council have asked for work to begin on a comprehensive plan for field space throughout the city. That effort would include all the current programs already in place and will be a joint effort involving partners such as the school district, Santa Monica College, local sports teams and the Rec and Parks commission.

The council acknowledged their actions were limited, but repeatedly stated the 2005 plan remains in place, including its provision for a field on the site.

In giving direction, several councilmembers went out of their way to say it could take years to develop a comprehensive plan and even a temporary solution would likely take months, if not years, to put in place.

While the council reiterated their commitments to a field, they also acknowledged a lack of progress had angered residents.

“We do have to recognize that it’s clear tonight that the community has become impatient with us in regards to the playing field,” said Councilwoman Gleam Davis.

In an email, Councilman Kevin McKeown said incorporating language referencing the 2005 plan into the proposal requirements effectively incorporates the field requirement into any future discussions but also said a single field at the Civic site won’t solve the bigger problem.

“The City Council Tuesday night made explicit that the Civic Center sports field, already part of the adopted 2005 Civic Center Specific Plan, shall be indicated as a ‘given’ as we seek partners for rehabilitating the Civic Auditorium,” he wrote. “Further, we directed staff to explore a short-term, temporary sports field at the corner of 4th and Pico while longer-term plans are developed. We acknowledged the broad interest in multiple sports, making one field certainly not enough to satisfy the demonstrated interest, and told staff to begin conversations with the School District, the College, non-school sports leagues, and the community on how we can create multiple fields for the pressing sports and playfield needs that have remained unfulfilled.”

Councilman Ted Winterer asked for additional information on ways to fund a field at the Civic site and said the City should explore what can be done in the short term while a long-term solution was developed. “We need to give a strong signal going forward that we will pursue this temporary field idea,” he said.

Prior to their field comments, council did take action on seeking a new operator for the auditorium. Council chose to solicit proposals that are limited to operating the auditorium, saying the decision was made to maximize the chance of finding an operator who could take on the task of revitalizing the building itself.

“The idea was not to put any configuration or limits to responding to the RFQ,” Davis said. “There’s a lot of things that could happen there and the idea is not to put constraints on it so that whoever is responding to the RFQ can use their imagination and thing outside of the box as much as possible.”

O’Day said past plans for the Civic were doomed by too many requirements and said a more general proposal could actually increase the ability of the City to support uses like a sports field.

“One of the challenges we’ve had here is it’s pretty narrowly defined what the Civic is used for, how it would be used and I’d like to be sure that we’re thinking about opening it up significantly to these multiple uses, specifically these ideas around convention uses and sports,” he said.

Bidders will be required to demonstrate financial/organizaitonal skills, work within the 2005 plan (including the plans for the child education center, field and parking) and respond to the desire for a performing arts center.

editor@www.smdp.com