Civic: The Civic Auditorium with Samohi visible in the background. Credit: Grace Adams

Editor’s Note: The City Attorney has told SMDP that the decision to release the information via online note is in compliance with the Brown Act*

A measure of clarity has been added to the murky future regarding the Civic Auditorium as one of the two potential bidders for the property has been eliminated from negotiations.

Council voted to terminate negotiations with Community Corporation of Santa Monica (CCSM) for the site during its closed season meeting on July 25. However, the decision was withheld from the public that night and was instead added to a government website the next day as part of a frequently asked question document on the Civic Auditorium’s future.

No explanation was provided in response to questions over the notification by press time.

Laws governing civic meetings allow agencies to discuss property negotiations in private, known as closed session. However, any actions taken during closed session are required to be reported out to the public when the legislative body returns to open session.

“I will turn to the city attorney and ask for the report out from closed session,” said Mayor Gleam Davis on July 25.

“All of the listed closed session matters were discussed, there is no reportable action,” said City Attorney Doug Sloan.

However, according to the written notification posted on July 26, action was taken.

In its closed session meeting on July 25, 2023, the City Council terminated negotiations with Community Corp. of Santa Monica (CCSM). There is no update regarding negotiations with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District,” reads the update.

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, had 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 (Black families were evicted from the site to facilitate its construction and the nearby freeway) while Metropolitan would convert the Civic into new economic/housing use.

Community opposition to a sale or lease of the property has grown in recent weeks with advocates demanding the negotiations be opened to the public and historic preservation advocates welcomed the news of CCSM’s expulsion from the process.

The property is zoned for recreational use and is designated as a City landmark to preserve its historic features. However, it is currently deemed seismically unsafe and has been closed since 2013, except for a small meeting space in the East Wing that closed in 2020. Parts of the property’s parking lot have already been repurposed as a childcare educational facility and an athletic field.

Efforts to secure a private partner to operate the main building have failed twice due to funding and support issues. At present, the City lacks the budget and staff to rehabilitate and reopen the site on its own.

In 2022, the City declared the property as “surplus” under the Surplus Land Act (SLA). The designation is required before any lease or sale of civic property can occur. Aside from sale or lease, State regulators told the Daily Press that any use of a previously vacant building, even by the city itself, required completion of the SLA process if the State deemed the proposed use “nonessential.”

Once property has entered the SLA process, municipalities must engage in good faith negotiations with interested parties but they do not have to come to an agreement.

The status of SMMUSD’s proposal will likely be discussed in a future closed session sometime in the Fall.

*According to the Brown Act: 

“Approval of an agreement concluding real estate negotiations pursuant to Section 54956.8 shall be reported after the agreement is final, as follows:

(A) If its own approval renders the agreement final, the body shall report that approval and the substance of the agreement in open session at the public meeting during which the closed session is held.”

City Attorney Doug Sloan said while a vote was taken to discontinue negotiations, because the vote was ending negotiations, not authorizing an agreement to execute a sale/lease, the Brown Act reporting requirement did not apply. 

“We follow the Brown Act, and different types of actions have different reporting requirements,” he said.

Sloan did not provide information as to why the decision was deemed important enough to voluntarily announce via the website but not important enough to report live at the meeting.

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...