Last night, the Santa Monica City Council voted unanimously for a public outreach process and consultant team to lead that process for how the land that the Santa Monica Airport now rests assuming it is closed on January 1, 2029.
Sasaki Design Associates is now the lead consultants for both the design and public outreach process following last night’s vote. Sasaki will lead a 21 month public outreach process that will yield three designs for the City Council to consider, all of which will center a “Great Park” as either the dominant or sole land-use.
The process will include at least 40 outreach events, 21 commission meetings and five presentations to the City Council. In the early phases there will be a large-in person meeting to solicit feedback and another one meeting held virtually. The process will end with a large “community celebration” of Santa Monica’s future park.
Notably, the first eight months of the process will be “listening only” for the consultants and no designs for the park will be drafted or planned until that portion is over. In the eight months that follow, Sasaki will introduce three draft plans that will be refined before the Council selects a plan to move forward.
Between the public comment time at the meeting and online comment received by Councilmembers, support was overwhelming and near unanimous that a contract with Sasaki should move forward, the city should fund a full-time position to work on park planning, and should move quickly to begin the outreach process.
Where there was disagreement was on whether or not the city should allow the outreach process to include any discussion of whether or not the future land uses could include non-recreational uses. Voters passed Measure LC in 2014 which only allows recreational uses after the airport is closed unless the voters approve a different land use. Some of those testifying expressed concern that if the city moves forward with a plan for the airport that requires another vote, it could muddy the waters before the city council officially votes to close the airport.
However, others that testified were concerned that if the Council voted to limit what could be discussed that it would poison the public process from the beginning. During the Council discussion portion of the meeting, Councilmember Gleam Davis even wondered why bother with an expensive outreach process before design if the Council is presupposing “recreational use only.”
City planning staff split the difference between the two opinions stating that any design would center a park, but that the eight months of outreach are designed to hear all opinions and to create drafts based on what the most popular ones presented are.
A second debate arose at Council about who should be reached out to and what opinions are the most valid.
Councilmember Christine Parra expressed concerns that “affordable housing advocates” would get hundreds of people that weren’t city residents to flood any online outreach process such as a survey. Mayor Phil Brock also stated that he didn’t think outreach to people that live in Los Angeles is necessary at this point, but that all will be welcome in Santa Monica’s park. Councilmember Lana Negrete also wondered about weighting responses from longtime residents, as some newcomers might not be here when the park is eventually opened.
The only counterpoint came from Councilmember Caroline Torosis, who advocated for Los Angeles to have a member on an airport land use advisory board in the past, who argued that the city won’t be able to foot the bill for a 227 acre park on its own and should be looking to “bring stakeholders along” from outside the city now to insure there’s a coalition willing to back grants, ballot measures or joint funding agreements in the future.
Currently, the airport is home to both aviation and non-aviation uses within the 227 acre site. 187 acres of the park is open space (including private open space such as the runway) with 40 acres of buildings such as the Museum of Flying, a small group of restaurants and the arts campus.
Last night’s meeting was mild compared to the one in October when the Council rejected the first staff proposal for outreach on the park. Staff had proposed a cutting edge type of public outreach designed to bring out people not usually heard from in traditional public outreach and include voices. That proposal was scrapped on a 4-3 vote of the Council.