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  • Houman Hemmati

SMMUSD Plan to Buy Civic Auditorium Disregards its History, the Needs of Public, and Prohibitive Cos

This letter originally appeared in the Santa Monica Observer, August 20, 2023, reprinted with permission.


Our children deserve the best education, and that comes from prioritizing teachers, curriculum, and class sizes, not vanity building projects. My Open letter to SM City Council and School Board on the quarter billion $+ plan to acquire the Civic Auditorium: Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education, Santa Monica City Council, Mayor Gleam Davis Dear Members of the SMMUSD Board of Education, City Council, and Mayor Gleam Davis, I am writing to you as a concerned citizen of Santa Monica and a parent of two school children in the SMMUSD. The proposed plan to purchase and repurpose the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium is one that has deeply disturbed and angered me. The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium stands as a symbolic treasure of our city's history. Not only has it hosted iconic events like the Academy Awards, but it also represents an invaluable asset to the city's cultural fabric. To declare it "surplus" due to its disrepair is short-sighted and dismissive of its cultural significance. It is with incredulity that I've learned of the proposal to spend nearly a quarter of a billion dollars on its transformation into a high school gymnasium for santa monica high school. From an economic perspective, this sum, which could escalate given the nature of construction projects, would not only unduly burden our taxpayers but also significantly divert funds that could be better invested in the district's educational needs – smaller class sizes and hiring more educators. We need to refocus our priorities on education, not construction. The current plan exemplifies an unfortunate trend towards emphasizing construction projects over substantive educational advancements. Our children deserve the best education, and that comes from prioritizing teachers, curriculum, and class sizes, not vanity building projects. Furthermore, by converting the Civic Auditorium into a school facility, we are denying the broader Santa Monica community access to a valuable public space. The proposal disregards the interests of our residents, especially when there are more viable and sensible alternatives. A rehabilitation project, led by the city or through collaboration with renowned organizations such as Live Nation or Caruso, can transform this landmark into a revenue-generating asset. Through such partnerships, the facility can host concerts, town halls, and other events, benefitting both the city's coffers and its community. Moreover, provisions can be made to allow the city and school district to use the facility for significant events, creating a win-win scenario for all stakeholders. Let me be unequivocally clear: The outright sale or gifting of this asset to the school district, or its repurposing for housing projects, particularly those that prioritize developers' interests over the community's, would be a gross misappropriation of this landmark. I am deeply concerned about the undue influence of developers and lobbyists, many of whom share close ties with city politicians. Please understand that this is not just the voice of one individual. This sentiment resonates with many of our fellow citizens. If the current proposal is pushed forward without due consideration of its broader implications and alternative solutions, be assured that it will become a rallying cry for change. A recall election against any elected official supporting this plan is not just a threat; it is a promise. This decision may very well be the straw that breaks the camel's back and galvanizes our community to rally for better representation and responsible decision-making. The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium has a significant history. The academy awards were held there in the 1950's and early 1960's. Our city's future and its legacy are at a crossroads. I urge you to reflect deeply on the ramifications of your decisions and consider the broader interests of the Santa Monica community. The preservation and responsible management of our landmarks, such as the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, are critical to our city's identity and future. Your legacy and political future will be indelibly marked by the choices you make now.




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