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Civic Update: Four Things We've Learned

Updated: Aug 23, 2023



Dear friends of the Civic, The Santa Monica/Malibu Unified School District met last week to discuss the feasibility of acquiring the Civic Auditorium to be used primarily as a gym. We oppose this plan and are actively looking for suitors who would restore the Civic to its historically intended purpose: as a world-class venue for music and the performing arts. Based on our initial outreach we are optimistic that such a suitor can be found. In the meantime, here are four things we learned from the District’s Board meeting: 1) Many residents equate the School District acquiring the Civic with the Civic being saved. But there is no guarantee the District will preserve the Civic and they are under no legal obligation to do so. The District can go through a process of “de-landmarking,” enabling it to do whatever it wishes with the building, including demolishing it. Indeed, during his presentation, School Board COO Carey Upton was very careful in his language about preservation, responding to his own question about whether the integrity of the building could be saved by saying, “We do believe this is true”. “We do believe this is true” is a far cry from we absolutely will. And when it comes to historic preservation, the District is far from trust worthy, having promised to save the historically significant and beloved Samohi History Building, only to reverse itself and against the pleas of residents and preservationists, demolish it. 2) Money, money, money. The District doesn’t have it and will need A LOT of it. It already will be asking voters to approve hundreds of millions of dollars in new bonds for other projects. The money they’ll need for the Civic project will be on top of that. Current estimates are mind-boggling: upward of $227 million, PLUS the cost of acquiring it from the City. Santa Monicans already own the Civic, having paid for it decades ago with a bond. As one resident asked, “why should we pay again for what we already own?” 3) Samohi has a new gym. This would be a second gym, which would be used primarily for basketball, volleyball, and wrestling COMPETITIONS. (That’s right, just competitions. According to the Feasibility Study the Civic is too far from campus to be used for P.E.) Considering the relatively small number of students who compete in those three sports, the cost per athlete for this project is astronomical. 4) To pay operating costs, the District intends to rent the Civic to outside entities, possibly for more than 100 days a year. Think about that. Residents will be asked to finance a bond that will allow the District to be in the venue rental business for almost one-third of every year; a business in which it has no experience or expertise. And what if it can’t rent its converted gym out that many days? Who’s going to pay for the shortfall? Hint: Look in a mirror, City Council. The vote to continue pursuing this plan was not unanimous, but the School Board is moving forward and will take its sales pitch on the road to try to convince residents to support it. We believe its plan is bad for the School District, its other schools that are sorely in need of funding, and for the historic preservation of the Civic. Visit our website at savethecivic.org to learn more.

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