HISTORIC BELMAR PARK: The project is expected to be at Pico and 4th Street. Courtesy image.

City Hall is asking school officials to rethink plans that could reduce public access to fields and open space on school grounds.

Council’s decision to send a letter outlining their concerns was prompted by a February presentation to the Recreation and Parks Commission by SMMUSD officials. At that meeting, Carey Upton, Chief Operations Officer of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District described projects that were recently completed, are still in-construction, or planned for the future at SMMUSD schools.

“In particular, Mr. Upton previewed plans SMMUSD currently is working on for the elementary and middle school campuses,” a letter from the Recreation and Parks Commission to Council reads. “In many instances, the designs significantly reduce open and recreational space that the community has relied on and used for decades during non-school hours.

Our City is notably park-poor and these campuses effectively are used as our city’s neighborhood parks. In recognition of this, all of the campuses are subject to the City-SMMUSD joint use agreements and the Playground Partnership.”

After discussion with residents and amongst Commissioners, the Recreation and Parks Commission voted unanimously to recommend that Council ask the SMMUSD School Board to prioritize open space and recreational functions when developing site improvements. The Commission also wanted staff to review the Master Facilities Use Agreement between SMMUSD and the City of Santa Monica to ensure that improvements proposed at the public schools are consistent with prior agreements.

Councilmember Phil Brock said he happened to sit in on part of the February meeting when he shared with Council Wednesday that the Commission was worried that, in some cases, the fields used as parks on evenings and weekends could be reduced. As a result, he asked Council to consider the recommendations from the Recreation and Parks Commission.

Even though the motion wasn’t heard until 2 a.m. Wednesday, Board President Jon Kean stayed up to speak about the matter during public comment.

“Our school district values open space and will work to preserve it at all of our school sites. We are aware of the city’s interests and we share them,” Kean said, adding, as a school board, he and his peers must look at every situation and ask what is optimal for students. “We understand the role that open space plays in our curriculum, and we will work to maintain, defend and improve it.”

Council voted unanimously to forward the letter to SMMUSD’s board of education.

SMMUSD officials have said they intend to hold a meeting April 29 that will feature further discussion on facilities and improvements to local campuses.