Santa Monica parks

The City is moving forward with plans to potentially place a parks bond on the 2018 ballot to pay for park expansions and upgrades to existing parks. The City has hired a strategic research company to conduct a survey to gauge support for a bond.

Santa Monica voters overwhelmingly supported Measure A last November, a countywide parcel tax that will fund park improvements starting July 2018. It is estimated Santa Monica will receive $10 million over the following ten years from the measure. However, the City’s director of community and cultural services, Karen Ginsberg, says that is not enough money to fund the City’s ambitious parks agenda.

Parks advocates say support for Measure A reflects a commitment to expanding parks in the City. Parks Commissioner John Cyrus Smith noted Santa Monica has never had a Parks Bond, yet 79 percent of voters supported Measure A.

“Clearly, that vote shows broad support for parks,” Smith said. “A Parks Bond, if approved, would be a win-win-win for everyone in Santa Monica and it is desperately needed if we are to ever expand the amount of true parks space.”

Since 1997, the City has increased its park acreage from 112 acres to 137 acres, according to a recent report from Ginsberg. The City still lags behind the County in overall acreage, offering 1.4 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents. The County averages 3.3 acres for every 1,000 residents.

A capital funding measure could cover the costs of the 12-acre expansion of Airport Park, a permanent sports field at the Civic Center with underground parking, and/or a renovation of Memorial Park.

The City Council has unanimously supported moving forward with a potential measure, directing staff to concentrate on casting a wide net. A funding measure would require two-thirds majority vote to pass.

“Prop 13 has put a high hurdle in front of us so it is about not only appealing to people’s hearts and minds but also about really trying to figure out what will dig up the most votes,” Councilmember Gleam Davis said at an April City Council meeting.

Part of that wide net could include a provision allowing funds to go to arts and cultural programming. The president of the Santa Monica Conservancy specifically asked the pollsters to include a question about Civic Auditorium.

“We suggest that the Bond measure could include funding toward the rehabilitation and revitalization of the Civic Auditorium as a performance venue, thus broadening the base of supporters,” Carol Lemlein said in a letter to the Council.

The Parks Commission also directed staff to explore a soda tax to fund parks, similar to a measure in Berkeley that took effect in 2015. A recent study reported in PLoS Magazine found sugar-sweetened drink sales fell 9.6 percent in the first year of the tax while raising $1.4 million for community health programs.