Airport Campus Parking Dilemma

Students contemplating taking classes this summer at the soon-to-be-completed Santa Monica College satellite airport facility, also known as the Bundy campus, might be well-advised to arrange contingency plans.

The reason for the advisory is that no agreement exists between SMC and the city of Santa Monica regarding access to the new facility. And with classes set to begin at Bundy on July 5 (less than two months away), there is no certainty the problem will be resolved on time.

There are three theoretical access routes available. The driveway currently used by builders to access the site is off Centinela, but is deemed inadequate by all parties for a number of reasons, including the fact there is no signal at that location. The so-called "Stewart gate" will also not be adopted as SMC President Dr. Tom Donner in a "Visioning" meeting recently assured Mar Vista residents who were worried about the impact to their neighborhoods. The most likely candidate, at least from the college's perspective, is the route used by the previous tenant, BAE Systems, from whom SMC purchased the property.

But thus far, the city of Santa Monica has locked the two gates and has refused to agree to their use allowing access to that route from Airport Avenue. If this problem is not resolved in time, the Bundy campus will not open on schedule.

This state of affairs has been exacerbated by the purported imminent refusal of Santa Monica City Hall staff to recommend to the City Council against accepting an offer of $32 million from the college. This would finance the already approved airport park in the area currently used for shuttle parking, plus an additional permanent subterranean parking for the college under the site. That lease providing approximately 400-500 parking spaces is set to expire this June, and with no replacement in hand.

Don Gerard, SMC executive assistant to Donner, has been described as the "mastermind behind the project," negotiating on college's behalf along with Donner and his senior staff. With over 18 years of service to SMC, mostly as director of marketing, Gerard has been involved with the development of the college for some time.

When asked about the city staff's hesitancy in accepting SMC's offer which would finance Santa Monica's $8.2 million park and provide significant additional monies for capital improvements, Gerard said "he believes the award of bid will go forward with the park as planned. They (the city of Santa Monica) have the plans, funds and approvals. If there is a delay, it (construction of the park) may not happen."

Some of the fears attending to a delay that would necessarily occur with the launching of a new environmental impact report (EIR) regard what might be found under the park site. Many feel those fears are substantiated by the many other projects in the L.A. basin that have been throttled by below-ground discoveries, such as occurred in the ill-fated and abandoned Belmont Learning Complex and in the Playa Vista Development Project due to pervasive and toxic methane gas.
On the other hand, if there are fears about what might exist at the site if excavated, what impact could those unknown threats have on the youths who are expected to play on the field to be built there?

What appears as late-in-the-game maneuverings regarding replacement parking and access to the Bundy campus involves a certain amount of finger pointing from the various players.

In the April 7, 2005, edition of the Santa Monica Daily Press, writer Ryan Hyatt reported the following quote from Santa Monica Councilman Richard Bloom. "I have heard that if we go through with this proposal (SMC's $32 million offer) we're looking at least at a two-year delay, and that delay is unacceptable. The college took the site (current shuttle parking location) to use temporarily and the people of Sunset Park have borne the brunt. I'm very interested in working with the college, but that kind of cooperative movement has not been forthcoming."

"I profoundly disagree," said Gerard, when told of Bloom's comment. "The college has gone the extra mile to protect Sunset Park and our immediate neighbors."

Recounting the many initiatives SMC has launched to assuage the concerns of neighboring communities, Gerard said, "Over the years we've moved the face of the front of the college from Pearl Street to Pico; we've significantly shifted parking to the Pico side of the campus; we've supported and paid for the most successful shuttle operation on the Westside that keeps over 1,500 students a day from using Sunset Park; we've changed our calendar to even out the impact of traffic; we've added satellite campuses to reduce the impact of the college on local neighbors; we've added online instruction in order to reduce student traffic; we are offering to preserve the shuttle and to provide an additional satellite campus - together these ideas are beneficial to college neighbors."

And insofar as who is responsible for the current predicament about SMC's generous offer to the city, Gerard shared these insights.

Back in 2002, the college offered to pay (with money from bond measure "U") for a parking structure at the airport, but not a park. After that, "there was no follow-up from the city to our offer," said Gerard. "The college bought land (the Bundy campus property) adjacent to the lot and it was assumed by the city, but not by the college, that the new campus would replace the shuttle parking. The college staff did not believe the campus parking was adequate to replace the shuttle parking."

But with no agreement between City Hall staff and the college evolving, SMC got behind a second bond measure ("S") in November of 2004, which "allowed us to sweeten the offer," said Gerard, based on an understanding of what it would take to finalize the deal.

Thinking there was an agreement that had evolved behind closed doors in negotiations over a few years, SMC has been surprised by recent intimations indicating the $32 million deal is likely to be rejected.

From the city's side of the equation, Jeff Mathieu, director of resource management (which includes his roles as airport director and head of Santa Monica's re-development agency), emphasized that the city and SMC "have a history of successful, cooperative relations."

But he also shared his concerns about what the city needs from the college before any decisions can be made about access to the Bundy campus. "We're waiting for the master plan," he said. "It begins and ends with a master plan for the campus."

Asked for his perspective about the scheduled opening of the Bundy campus , Mathieu said that despite widespread coverage of the fact, he was "not aware of the campus opening for classes in July." Pressed further about the perceived stand-off regarding campus access he said, "You don't paint yourself into a corner and then try to find your way out of that corner."