While Council made no decision about the future of the Civic Auditorium at this week’s meeting, dueling proposals to reimagine the site brought out advocates and critics on Tuesday.
The Civic Auditorium at 1855 Main Street has been vacant since 2013. The site has seen significant changes with an SMC educational facility, playing fields for the nearby Samohi and a water recycling facility all added in recent years but the central building has remained empty.
Before unused municipal property can be leased or sold, it must be designated as “surplus” with priority given to educational or housing uses. However, those priority windows only last for a few months and both of the current bids emerged this month.
SMMUSD wants to convert the landmarked building into a gym but given the restrictions of the landmarked property and costs associated with building up to State codes, the proposal is far from certain.
Community Corporation of Santa Monica (CCSM) the city’s largest affordable housing developer, has pitched a competing idea in partnership with the Committee for Racial Justice (CRJ) and the Metropolitan Pacific Real Estate Group. CRJ would work to recognize the site’s history of racial injustice while Metropolitan would convert the Civic into new economic use.
Several speakers backed the CCSM proposal.
The Civic property was once the Belmar neighborhood and its minority residents were evicted to make way for development of the area and the freeway.
Hajar Muqtasid St. Claire said she opposed the SMMUSD proposal and said the CCSM concept would address the history of the property.
“Those pieces of property taken by eminent domain on Belmar place between Main and Third streets north of Pico symbolizes a lot of destruction and right now you all have the opportunity to do something different with that property,” she said. “The fact that Belmar was historically a majority black neighborhood is key to why they targeted it for eminent domain. This is precisely why it needs to be restored as payment for ancestral damage to the black and brown communities.”
Robbie Jones agreed saying the city should follow up on its recent Black Apology by backing the CCSM bid.
“We know why it was taken. We know what it was and it was taken from predominantly African American community who had to find homes and shelter and raise their children and families elsewhere,” she said. “How can you do anything else but give it back?”
CCSM Executive Director Tara Barauskas said the partnerships behind her organization’s bid would elevate the property to its best use.
“We agree that this property has a long and devastating history,” she said. “And it only seems right that it should go towards community uses. We would be very interested in putting affordable housing on this property, potentially a Homeownership Program if that’s something we could work together on.”
Community volunteer Ann Hoover opposed both proposals saying the City should cease negotiations and work to reopen the Civic as a municipal asset.
“The auditorium has been the linchpin of Santa Monica civic life and public space for 70 years and without it what would the community as a whole, and that’s everyone of all races, economic levels, everything, what would the community as a whole be left with without it? Selling it would completely gut our city’s commitment to civic gathering space.”
Real estate negotiations are conducted in closed session and the Council is only required to provide updates if a decision is made. No decisions were announced Tuesday leaving the future of the proposals, and the Civic, in limbo.