Oppose the Proposed Preschool at 2953 Delaware Ave.

“We had to destroy the village in order to save it,” an American major proclaimed during the Vietnam War. Sadly, albeit without napalm or B-52 strikes, that same twisted logic underlies a proposed preschool at 2953 Delaware Ave., which sits in the middle of a small R1-zoned residential community in the Gandara (formerly Stewart) Park neighborhood, part of the larger Pico District. On September 6, 2017, the Santa Monica Planning Commission rubber-stamped the proposed preschool with next-to-no consideration of the negative impacts this commercial operation will bring to our neighborhood in terms of traffic, safety, parking, noise, and environmental concerns. The residents of Gandara Park have appealed this approval to City Council, which will adjudicate the matter at the January 23rd council meeting. We urge all Santa Monicans concerned with commercial incursions into residential neighborhoods to join our opposition to the proposed preschool.

A common refrain heard throughout our city is that our officials are largely indifferent to residents’ concerns, often putting special interests and commercial developments above the general welfare of the city’s actual residents. The disregard shown by the Planning Commission to neighborhood residents was shocking. It appeared their approval was forthcoming even before the “public” hearing began. Commissioner Richard McKinnon repeated the refrain “the City wants this” as if his and the other commissioners’ hands were tied. But, “the City” is not the Planning Division or even the elected City Council; the “City” is us, the residents, and our voices should matter especially when nearly the entire neighborhood is against this business. To date, we have collected over 350 petition signatures; over 200 in our immediate neighborhood, with roughly 150 from allies throughout the city.

The empirical data demonstrates there is no need for more preschools in 90404. Recent RAND and LA County studies both separately find that Santa Monica in general, and 90404 in particular, are over-preschooled. There are 54 preschools within a two-mile radius of the proposed school. Within Santa Monica, 90404 already has 20 preschools, as compared to 17 in 90405, 10 in 90403, 5 in 90401, and 1 in 90402. The Applicant for the proposed preschool, Laila Taslimi, argues that her 20-student preschool is different because it will partially serve low-income children. Many Santa Monica preschools, however, already offer tuition assistance to low-income students. Moreover, the Planning Commission’s approval of the preschool, does not require the Applicant to have any subsidized students.

This proposed preschool is the spearhead of a larger special interest group of early education advocates in our city that envisions opening private preschools throughout our R1 neighborhoods. At the behest of this special interest group, the city changed the zoning laws in 2015 to allow a non-resident (i.e., someone who would not live in the home) to run a business like a preschool out of an R1 single-family home with a Conditional Use Permit (CUP). This is a whole order of magnitude different than a resident-operated home day care, which CA state law allows any homeowner to run, with up to 12 children. Our neighborhood already has three such resident-operated day cares. This 20-student preschool would be the first such business approved by the city in an R1 zoned neighborhood. Ms. Taslimi would operate her year-round business in our neighborhood by day, disrupting our peace, quiet, and safety to serve her business needs, and then return to the peace and quiet of her north-of-Montana neighborhood at night. Approval of the preschool would set a citywide precedent, and represent a clear case of the city privileging a special interest and deep pockets over the well-being of its residents, especially those in neighborhoods most at risk.

If City Council approves the preschool, it would amount to sanctioning an unwanted marriage. Neighbors in Gandara Park have met with Ms. Taslimi several times, repeatedly having our concerns largely fall on deaf ears. Ms. Taslimi, similar to the Planning Commission, has never appreciated the degree to which our neighborhood is already under assault by surrounding commercial and infrastructure development, and how her business would destroy the last remaining thread of peace (Delaware Ave.) we have in our neighborhood. A CUP issued to open a business in an R1 zone can only be granted in cases where the proposal will not adversely affect the character and quality of life of the surrounding community, conditions clearly not met for the proposed preschool. Gandara Park, a three-block residential neighborhood nestled between the 10 freeway to the south, the city dump and Metro station along Stewart to the west, the Metro Maintenance Facility along Exposition to the north, and commercial development along Centinela to the east, is already under siege by surrounding commercial activity. Plopping an outside business in the middle of Delaware will be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.

My neighbors and I are only asking for equity in city planning. The Pico District, and Gandara Park Neighborhood in particular, have been carrying the burden of the city’s commercial and infrastructure needs for decades now. It is not a coincidence that not one elected council member or appointed planning commissioner lives in the Pico District. Many of my elderly Japanese-American neighbors, all of whom oppose this preschool, were interned by the federal government during WWII. They know the heavy hand of state policy slapping them in the face. For most of us in Gandara Park, the City’s approval of the preschool next Tuesday would be another smack in the face. The Planning Commission’s approval of the preschool CUP was saturated in paternalism and elitism. The message sent to our neighborhood, was “Be quiet. We know what’s best for you.” We will not be quiet. It is long past time for our voices to be heard. Please come support the preservation of Gandara Park Neighborhood, and by extension all Santa Monica residential neighborhoods, by standing in solidarity with us before the City Council at Tuesday’s hearing.

Christine Parra,

Resident of Gandara Park Neighborhood