On Tuesday, February 9th our City Council will receive a report from the appointed members of the Civic Working Group. It is the culmination of over 18 months of volunteer effort by nine community members. Representatives of four city commissions, a representative from the adjacent neighborhood and four at-large members were chosen to be part of the effort to create a plan for a mixed-use cultural center around the Civic Auditorium. Of course, the number one priority was to find a way to renovate and reopen Santa Monica’s landmarked auditorium, once vibrant and now vacant.
The report is comprehensive. As Chair of the Recreation & Parks Commission I was appointed to the Civic Working Group as the representative of a commission which has a direct interest in athletic and recreational space. My charge was to advocate for the playing field that was codified in the Civic Center Specific Plan. That plan, adopted in 2005, established a high school regulation athletic field on the corner of Fourth and Pico to be used jointly by Santa Monica High School and by residents of Santa Monica.
I want to focus on the “fire” that originated 17 years ago in residents and Samohi students who saw a need for a playing field at that location. In 1999, I was appointed by the SMMUSD to the school district’s Physical Education and Athletics Advisory Committee. I followed the lead of the Chair of that committee as we pushed for more open space for recreational and athletic opportunities. We were especially concerned with the lack of green space at Santa Monica High School. Our Chair had been working tirelessly to have a girls’ softball field built at Samohi. Neil Carrey achieved that goal and succeeded in adding athletic space to our city’s only public high school. We realized that Samohi still had dramatic shortages in playing field space and joined with community residents in advocating for a playing field to be built on a portion of the Civic Auditorium parking lot. Advocates from the PTSA, the Samohi athletic staff, and community sports groups joined in that quest.
As the discussion of the future of the Civic Auditorium’s surrounding grounds picked up steam, the hope that a playing field could be built there seemed realistic. The City proposed a parking structure at 4th and Olympic Drive to replace the surface parking at the Civic. That lot was built. A new Public Safety Facility was proposed. The facility was built. A park was proposed on the previous Rand Corporation site. Tongva Park was built. A new cut-through street was proposed. Olympic Drive was built. High-rise apartments and condos were proposed. They were built. An early childhood care center was suggested to occupy a corner of the property – and is scheduled for construction in 2017. All of this development was part of the 2005 Civic Center Specific Plan. There remains one other element of this plan that has not been realized: a multi-purpose playing field. As one resident stated, “our city has spent fifteen years NOT building a sports field.”
The playing field was added to the Civic Center Specific Plan because of the advocacy of my preceding Chairs of the Recreation & Parks Commission, Frank Schwengel, Susan Cloke and Neil Carrey. Through their work and that of members of the Recreation & Parks Commission and many community leaders, the playing field was included. City leaders did not add the field willingly. The field became part of the plan because hundreds of residents believed that Samohi students deserved more open space. The City Council acquiesced to the pressure of a multitude of citizens who appeared at the City Council chambers in 2005 to promote the inclusion of the field. The embers of that effort have continued to glow over the past decade.
Over ten years have gone by since the playing field became part of the Civic Center Specific Plan. Two playing fields have been removed from Santa Monica High School since that time, while the number of sports and the number of students participating in athletics has dramatically increased. Almost one third of the students at our high school participate in sports. That’s impressive. Athletics help them achieve a high level of wellness and academic success. However, students must drive, walk and bicycle to practice facilities far from school, on their own time and without school transportation. That shows commitment. Many of our student athletes practice on fields with potential hazards. Baseball, track and soccer teams are using the same field for simultaneous practices. To this date nothing has been done to make the creation of the field into reality. Students at Samohi continue to be shortchanged. The need for the field at the Civic Center is acute. Isn’t it time for the Council to step up and vote to build the field?
Our City Council often looks at the newest, “shiniest” proposals and forgets about past promises to the electorate. For example, the addition of twelve acres to Airport Park is welcomed. However, I also want our earlier commitments to be fulfilled. Samohi students should not be expected to travel 3.4 miles to sports practice at Airport Park. The playing field is not the only potential park addition to be overlooked. The City purchased the old Fisher Lumberyard on the corner of 14th and Colorado for a Memorial Park addition almost a decade ago. Today the location is used for 80 city maintenance vehicles and a brand new parking lot, and the city is remodeling offices on the land that was promised to our park system. It’s time for City Council to fulfill their promises to the community and stop the bait and switch!
A multi-purpose playing field at the Civic Center would add open green space to the area. It would receive tremendous daily use from our high school students and from our community at large. There is no full-sized playing field available west of Lincoln Blvd between the north and south city limits. The Playing Field is the least expensive of any of the renovations within the Civic Center Specific Plan and would serve the most residents each day.
So the embers of an idea for a field continue to glow and now the flames approach the size of a bonfire. This fire has been fanned by our stakeholders of all ages. My predecessors on the Recreation & Parks Commission, all the current Recreation & Parks Commissioners, the Samohi PTSA, the Samohi Alumni Association, the Recreation & Parks Commission’s Field Sports Advisory Committee, our youth athletic leagues, students at Samohi and neighborhood associations that want this field built…now.
Sixteen years after this quest started in earnest, 250 residents showed up to a meeting of the Civic Working Group to tell the group how important the field was to their children and grandchildren. Residents are told to be patient, and that the field will not be removed from the Civic Center Specific Plan. However, many have seen the clause in the Civic Working Group report that suggests that plan for the field might be re-located to another part of the city.
The playing field at the Civic Center remains a “Field of Dreams”. I think its time to change the conversation. I think its time to build it!
Build this field and students will use it. Build this field and past students will use it. Build this field and children yet unborn will use it.
The council must amend the Working Group report. The Playing Field must be a given on the Civic Center grounds. The council must request a cost analysis for construction from city staff and must include a request-for-proposal in our city’s next budget, without fail.
The city has the money and residents have the will and the courage to continue to fan the flames. Many will gather at City Hall on Tuesday, February 9th to press the need for this field space. The Council has the means to extinguish this fire and be heroes to our community.
Fulfill your promise to our community.
Phil Brock for SM.a.r.t