If there is a better idea, now is the time: City Can Receive Private Bids for Sale of Civic Property


Just over a month ago, city officials predicted that it would be “at least three months” before the state would free the city from requirements under the “surplus land act” and it could receive bids to sell the Civic Auditorium property to a private bidder. That statement proved overly pessimistic as the city announced yesterday the surplus land act process was declared over, and anyone is open to make a play to rehab, purchase or “Save” the Civic.

For anyone just tuning in, in 2013, the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium closed because the building could not meet building codes regarding earthquake safety. For a decade, a building that had hosted rock concerts, philharmonics and even the Oscars has sat unused. State law requires that cities with unused publicly owned land go through a public process where non-profits and other government agencies can submit bids to use that land for the “public benefit” before it can open the land up for a larger “Request for Proposals,” which could include for-profit uses.

The city received two bids under that process, one from the Community Corporation of Santa Monica that would have rehabbed the Civic and created space for affordable housing. The other from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District that would have seen a rehabbed Civic turned into an athletics facility for the school with the option of public concerts and events when Samohi wasn’t using it.

The first proposal was rejected outright and the second was shelved by SMMUSD to give the city the chance to have an open process. While there is no process in place at the moment, anyone at any time can make a proposal to the city to purchase or rehab the Civic, they just haven’t for the past decade. SMMUSD is ready to resubmit their proposal should no other bidder step forward.

“We are at a place where we can pause,” said Carey Upton, the Chief Operations Officer for SMMUSD at a community meeting last month. “We will step back. We will not make a formal proposal at this time. If there is a better idea, now is the time.”

During the surplus land act process, a coalition of private citizens formed a group called “Save the Civic” that urged the City Council to reject the CCSM proposal and celebrated when SMMUSD “paused” their own proposal. Despite the lack of any movement to purchase, rehab, or Save the Civic for a decade the group claims that the Civic can be purchased by a private developer and/or concert promoter and return it to its former glory.

Save the Civic has taken things a step farther. On their website, in the press and in public presentations they claim to have been in contact with a team that is ready to restore the civic after all these years. However, no details were ever released because Save the Civic said it wasn’t the right time.

If such a proposal has been created and is forthcoming, in the words of the school district “now is the time” to let everyone in on what that plan is.

Damien Newton
Damien Newton
Damien is the executive director of the Southern California Streets Initiative which publishes Santa Monica Next, Streetsblog Los Angeles, Streetsblog San Francisco, Streetsblog California and Longbeachize.

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