Park: Plans are afoot for changes in the park, if funding can be secured. Grace Inez Adams

With the passage of the Measure V school bond in 2016, Santa Monica College committed to pledging $20 million toward a redevelopment of Memorial Park that was first envisioned in 1997. Negotiations between Santa Monica city staff and school officials to move that project forward were crawling along when the pandemic hit, placing the whole plan on ice. Now, city council wants to see the park’s remodel begin again.

On Tuesday, Sept. 27, council voted unanimously, 7-0, to ask staff to restart negotiations on that $20 million pledge that would cover the first phase of the extensive project that would expand the usable area of the park and add additional sports facilities.

Currently, the 10.3 acre park houses six sports diamonds, four tennis courts, a skate park, playground and community center/gym, with a 2.9-acre adjacent site housing equipment and some city offices. That adjacent property is set to be enveloped into the park expansion.

According to the Measure V full ballot text, “the college will provide up to $20 million in bond funds for the expansion of the City of Santa Monica’s Memorial Park to accommodate soccer and/or other field sports for use by college students and the general public.”

True to its word, SMC, along with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) and city representatives were in the midst of negotiations when the pandemic struck, according to a report by Senior Design Manager Amelia Feichtner, who works for the City of Santa Monica Public Works Department.

“In October of 2019, city council reviewed the Memorial Park redevelopment and expansion master plan that was the product of [a] community engagement process and directed staff to seek proposals for the design and construction services in phases one and two of ballpark redevelopment and expansion,” Feichtner told council on Tuesday. “In addition, council authorized staff to negotiate joint use agreements with Santa Monica College and Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.” 

At the time, funding for the project included the $20 million from SMC plus a goal of an additional $5 million from the SMMUSD’s Measure SMS bond and another $5 million from the city’s capital improvement budget, making up a $30 million phase one budget. 

A deal was struck by February 2022, but that all went out the window with COVID-19 shutdowns.

As of this week, following years of shaky financial footing due to the pandemic, city staff said the prospective phase one budget had shrunk down to just the $20 Measure V funding.

“The master plan for Memorial Park always envisioned a phased approach for construction that would be implemented over time as funding is available,” Feichtner said, later adding, “Moving forward, the only project funds currently available may be the $20 million dedicated to the park redevelopment from the SMC bond measure that had been preserved for this park expansion since the project was suspended as a result of the pandemic. Therefore, in order to begin implementation of a master plan now, it would be necessary to segment the project into additional smaller phases.”

In current project plans under the tightened budget, staff said there was no funding to replace a playground that was to be removed as part of the remodel. 

Discussing the project on Tuesday, council members expressed needs various residents brought forward to them including a desire to maintain or expand baseball/softball diamonds, pickleball courts, tennis courts and playgrounds. 

Mayor Sue Himmelrich said new statewide rules under AB 2011 — a bill Gov. Newsom signed into law in September that allows for by-right approval of affordable housing on commercially-zoned property — could mean there are more apartment buildings going up in the area near Memorial Park where children would not have private backyards in which to play.

“As we move forward with this Memorial Park plan, I think we need to address the fact that part of our city may become much more densely housed and people who live there should be within walking distance of a space where they can just go and if they’re not participating in a diamond sport still have some space just to run around and recreate,” Himmelrich said. 

Specific project plans were not part of the decision made on Tuesday; at the time, council asked staff to reenter negotiations for the $20 million funding, as well as look for locations where equipment stored on the park site can be moved to facilitate the park remodel.