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  • Charles Andrews

Surf’s Up, for the Civic

Updated: Sep 20, 2023


By Charles Andrews. Reposted from the Santa Monica Daily Press 9.20.23

Of so many Santa Monicans who recognize that our world famous auditorium is so packed with history, and so emblematic of the character of our city, that it must be saved.

And brought back to life as a functioning concert venue again. That could, and should, become the launch pad and linchpin of an artistic renaissance here, resulting in a new image for Santa Monica (boy, can we use one), as a city known for its dedication to the arts. That’s a pretty clean industry. With a future.

Some will be shocked at this news. There are those who want to do away with it? Afraid so. Though they would deny it.

Let me back up a bit and outline how we got here.

We had $50M from the state, earmarked to restore the Civic, but then Gov. Jerry Brown pulled back all redevelopment fund money a dozen years ago, and the Civic sat. I’m told that it did not turn a profit for 20 years before that. Maybe so, but that’s irrelevant, ancient history.


(Temporarily.) Sacramento passes a torrent of legislation that strips away from cities their ability to determine what their city looks like. You must build, build, build! – despite a dwindling population. Despite Santa Monica already being overly dense. So our City Council makes a blunder last November: they vote to declare the Civic property “surplus.” That means certain entities can then negotiate with the City to purchase it.

Two bidders came forward. One dropped out. That left our school district in the position of taking over the Civic, and that’s where we are at this moment.

Why would that be a really bad idea? For both the city and the schools? Several reasons. But mainly, it makes no sense to remove this building from public use by the entire city, to a much smaller population of high school basketballers and wrestlers, and only part time. You should never pit the arts against sports.


All properties belonging to CA schools are not subject to local zoning or landmarking (the Civic is landmarked). Once they own it there is nothing to keep them from demolishing it; that property, empty, is worth as much as $100M.

Shows at a resurrected Civic would benefit hotels, restaurants and other local businesses. Forever. We support our student athletes; we just built a soccer field near the Civic. But while you probably can’t dribble a soccer ball downfield when you’re 80, you can sit in the Civic and be thrilled by live music.

The District says it would also promote concerts there. Yeah, right. Wouldn’t District COO (Facilities Use) Carey Upton just love to be the impressario. But that is a very specialized and competitive field that requires experienced professionals. Last year Upton’s rentals brought about a nearly half-million dollar deficit, which they had to make up from other areas of the budget.

And the district’s estimate of refurbishing costs (inflated by half, I say) is some $220M. For which they would have to float a bond measure. Which might (and should) be rejected by voters. And would mean that we are paying again, through the nose, for a property we already own. Wow.

And that would tremendously inflate the half a billion dollar bond they will probably ask for anyway, just to repair the 70% of our old school buildings that need it, and the many problems with the new buildings they just spent the better part of a billion on. They are having to mostly rebuild our SMASH/John Muir school because they ignored known water leakage for 10 years, until it reached the point of having to abandon those two schools. These are not the people to manage such an important facility as the SM Civic.


For bringing back the Civic, a small organization of well-known resident activists, including members of SMCLC, formed “Save the Civic.” They have a reputation for being extremely thorough, and conservative in their approach, so when they say they have found a credible professional group with very similar prior experience who have promoted concerts worldwide, I trust them. They have their reputation to uphold.

It took them only five weeks! So even if we negotiated with that group and it fell through, that shows there are good vendors out there who would be interested in this venue, even with the current problems. Don’t forget: we were that close to a deal with the Nederlander Group when the $50M from the state fell through. It is now clear we can find the right party to get the Civic up and running again. That is so dang exciting.

It will take some time to open the doors, of course. But in order to have that golden opportunity, we have to convince our City Council to reject the School District’s severely flawed offer. The City is required to negotiate in good faith, but not required to accept an offer.


And tell them they must reject that terrible offer from the school district, and search for the right vendor. Voting the wrong way here would be the same kind of political suicide as voting to tear down the Pier in ‘73, but make no assumptions, take no chances. Let them know, strongly, how you feel. We cannot lose this important part of our community history.

And besides, we can’t let Brian Wilson down, can we?

(If you have a close enough relationship with a celebrity in any field who might add their name to the “Save the Civic” Advisory Board –”no money, no meeting” – contact them! And then let me know.)

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 37 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at

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