By Michael Feinstein. Inside/Outside. June 06, 2016

Life can be like quantum physics – depending upon how you look at it, it can seem to come in particles or waves. Such is the case with expanding parks and open space in Santa Monica.

Sometimes change seems like a particle – like the City Council’s recent vote to construct the long-awaited playing field at 4th/Pico – a discrete action leading to a specific result. Other times its more like a probability wave – like the City of Santa Monica’s recent procedural victory vs. the Federal Aviation Administration before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals – a part of a longer process toward a final destination not yet known.

New playing field at 4th/Pico

On May 24 – in response to significant community organizing – the City Council voted to construct a temporary multi-use sports field near the corner of 4th/Pico by mid-2018, with synthetic turf, fencing, lighting and portable restrooms.

Ever since the first Civic Center Specific Plan was approved in 1993, the corner of 4th/Pico was planned to be open space and since 2001, a playing field was specifically planned there. But only with this May 24 decision has a clear path leading to actual construction been taken.

The significance of this new field can not be overstated, because of the real difference it will make in young people’s lives – not only do we need more playing fields citywide, but especially in that part of town. A new field across from Samohi will address the concerns of numerous young athletes in our community, who have spoken at City Council meetings about the time and difficulty after school to get to fields elsewhere. Every year that we provide them with more field space, is a year of opportunity in their youth they would not have had otherwise.

What about the “temporary” nature of the field? Under the Civic Center Specific Plan, there remains a long term planning process for the Civic Auditorium and the entire 4th/Pico area. The temporary field is to be in place at least until that process is complete.

For the long term, it makes sense to relocate the field a few blocks to the north, as part of capping over the I-10 freeway just north of Samohi – a possibility the City Council voted to explore in conjunction with the School District back in February. When new field space there is built, 4th/Pico should be converted into multi-purpose real grass park that would be synergistic with public uses at a revamped Civic Auditorium; and the corner should provide an open neighborhood-friendly gateway to promote pedestrian flow to/from Ocean Park.

(By contrast, the 17-foot high fence legally required around the new field is not how we want 4th/Pico to be for the long term, but is acceptable for now to get the temporary field.)

New Gateway Triangle

A new green space most people don’t know about is the new Gateway Triangle – located between Main St., the Colorado Esplanade and Sears. Originally envisioned to be densely planted with shrubs, the space was re-conceived as an open grassy area in response to public input – with the ability to sit, play and people watch as the Esplanade flows by.

The Gateway Triangle will be programed/managed by Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. – the City-funded non-profit that helps manage the downtown area. They are open-minded about what direction it will take, making this an interesting public space to watch unfold.

Fisher Lumber site back in play

As far back as the mid-1990s, acquisition of the Fisher Lumber site at 14th/Colorado has been seen as an ideal opportunity to expand Memorial Park and reconfigure the playing fields. In 2004 the City purchased the site for $18.5 million. But with the planning process to expand Memorial Park still years off (because of multiple competing priorities and the elimination of City Redevelopment Agency funds by the state), the site has been used as a staging ground for City grounds crews and landscaping personnel and vehicles.

Earlier this year a $1.7 million plan was under consideration to build a small public parking lot there, and to repair leaks in the roof of the existing occupied building, and remodel it to consolidate supervisory staff with their employees. While very understandable given limited space to house City operations, the Recreation and Parks Commission argued this plan would institutionalize a non-open space use of the site for years to come, and the plans were ultimately withdrawn from consideration. The Commission’s efforts point to the important advocacy role City advisory boards and commissions can play. Now just like at 4th/Pico, the choice is how to best utilize City-owned land for an interim period.

The surrounding Pico and Mid-Cities neighborhoods are “park-poor” – i.e. they have the least amount of open space per resident in Santa Monica. If we tear down the existing structures at the Fisher Lumber site, we could create a simple neighborhood green park that would serve the community for years, and would not compromise long-term comprehensive planning of the entire 16-acre block.

For the longer term, we could also combine the Memorial Park expansion with capping the I-10 freeway for new park space between 11th St. and 14th St., and between 14th St. and 17th St. This would triple the open space in the immediate area, and reunite a part of the city which the construction of the Santa Monica freeway in the 1960s tore in two.

Airport to park

Another recent decision with major open space implications was by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on May 16 – allowing the City’s 2013 lawsuit seeking to confirm its ownership and control of the land at Santa Monica Airport (SMO) to proceed upon the merits. If Santa Monica ultimately wins its case – and the Ninth Circuit’s written decision suggests many reasons that it could – then this procedural victory could turn out to be a quantum leap towards turning all of SMO into a 160-plus acre great park – something local voters said they wanted in November 2014 in approving Measure LC with 60.5 percent.

Responsive local government

At the May 24 City Council meeting where the 4th/Pico field was approved, City Manager Rick Cole established a publicly transparent construction timeline for the new field, with periodic updates at Council meetings. Afterwards long-time sports fields advocate Maryanne LaGuardia stressed the importance of this and other recent City actions to gain new open space. “The sports fields community feels like after all these years fighting, we are being heard, and we are encouraged by the commitment of our local government.”

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (in quantum physics) teaches us that on the most fundamental levels of reality, how we look at things affects how they appear to us. With much positive thinking in the community about new open space, its good that E=mc2.

Michael Feinstein is a former Santa Monica Mayor (2000-2002) and City Councilmember (1996-2004) .  He can be reached via Twitter @mikefeinstein

Inside/Outside‘ is a periodic column about civic affairs Feinstein writes for the Daily Press, that takes advantage of his experience inside and outside of government.