Activists seek assurances on Civic Center Field

Kate Cagle
Daily Press Staff Writer

The City is moving forward with a $136,000 parking study to submit to the Coastal Commission along with plans for the Civic Center Field after the City Council approved a contract with Walker Parking Consultants, Inc., Tuesday.

Acknowledging a “high level of distrust in the community” over the City’s efforts to build the field by March 2021, Councilmember Sue Himmelrich asked staff to write a letter to the Coastal Commission asking whether the study is indeed necessary.

The Commission, which governs public access to the beach, recently approved two projects in the same area – a large preschool and the City Services Building – without a parking study.

“There are people who want to believe we are using some sort of stalling tactic,” City Manager Rick Cole said after several activists urged the Council to submit the application without a study in order to expedite a decision, and thus construction. “They are not talking to the Coastal Commission. We are.”

In June, the Council approved plans for an $8.6 million temporary sports field with about a 10-year lifespan that will replace nearly 700 parking spaces from the surface lot across from Santa Monica High School. Samohi sports teams currently use Memorial Park’s baseball and softball fields as well as indoor basketball courts.

The School Board is now discussing the needs of specific teams and a possible financial partnership with the City.

Cole said Coastal Commission Deputy Director Steve Hudson has implied the study is necessary in order to assess how the field will impact nearby parking lots and access to the beach.

The two projects recently approved by the Commission negatively impact available parking in the area.

The Early Childhood Lab School (ECLS) run by Santa Monica College will replace 230 parking spaces across from the RAND Corporation on Main Street.

The City Services Building (CSB) will consolidate staff into one building, increasing demand on nearby garages.

Cole said the study “will indisputably prove for all time that we have parking solutions for the Civic Center.” Staff anticipates the consultants will finish the study next summer.

The parking surveys provided for the approved projects found many of the 1,779 parking spaces near the Civic Auditorium sit empty during the week and on weekends. The Commission’s Executive Director Jack Ainsworth implied the city might have spaces to spare – saying Santa Monica has more parking than any other coastal city in the state.

Activists who consider the parking study a waste of money echoed his words during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

“As a reminder, the Coastal Commission also asked for a parking study for both the ECLS and for CSB but ultimately didn’t require it because the City refused to conduct the study and successfully argued there was sufficient parking based on parking utilization information,” Nikki Kolhoff said, asking why the City would not push back once again for the field.

In order to placate the field activists, Himmilrich requested staff send a letter to the Coastal Commission asking whether they would accept an application before the parking study is complete.

“I would be happy to write that letter,” Cole said. “And if we get a better answer than we’ve gotten consistently, good on everyone.”

The Council unanimously voted to move forward with the study.

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press