The subject was worldly enough--parking--but a proposed garage for Santa Monica's trendy Main Street drew some unusually "spiritual" support.
Dozens of Christian evangelicals from the El Sermon del Monte Church in Santa Monica flocked to a City Council meeting to show support for the proposal: a 460-space parking structure with 49 units of housing on top.
"We go in search of God, but have many problems parking," Jorge Rivera, Bible in hand, said before Tuesday night's council meeting. "We get a lot of tickets."
The church, a branch of the Assemblies of God denomination for those who speak Spanish, is located on 2nd Street one block east of Main Street, and congregation members must compete with shoppers and restaurant-goers for parking, Rivera said.
As debate of the proposal dragged late into the night, the evangelicals, some dressed in Royal Rangers uniforms (the church's version of Boy Scouts), left and did not address the council.
50 People Speak
But about 50 other people did speak for and against the proposal before the seven-member council finally gave the city staff the go-ahead to draw up plans for the parking structure. The vote, which came early Wednesday morning, was 6 to 1.
Numerous residents from Santa Monica's Ocean Park neighborhood and from the high-rise apartments and expensive beachfront condominiums that overlook the proposed garage site protested the project.
They questioned the need for more parking and said they feared a large parking structure would attract more cars and pave the way for overdevelopment of Main Street, a popular strip of stores, chic restaurants and art galleries. They also warned that the structure would attract criminals.
The opponents were challenged by Main Street property owners and some merchants who said more parking is crucial to the success of their businesses. Many pinned a letter "P" for parking to their chests.
At issue for many was the larger question of the future of development in Santa Monica.
In what has become a recurring debate in the seaside city, once considered a haven for slow-growth proponents, some residents point to a recent spate of approvals for luxurious hotels and massive office complexes and say officials are allowing development to go too far.
"You're supposed to be a slow-growth group. That's what you came in (to office) as," Bernice Marshall, a resident opposed to the parking garage, told the council.
"But there has been one project after another in which you're attempting to build something up. . . .," Marshall said. "We want no part of it."
The $4.1-million parking structure will be built on a 158-space parking lot on Neilson Way between Kinney and Hill streets, a half-block west of Main Street.
Details of the structure's design must be decided, but it will likely include three levels, with one underground. The housing would be made available to low- and moderate-income people; rents would range from $375 to $840.
The idea for a parking structure in the Main Street area has been studied for eight years. City officials said they added the housing, estimated to cost $6.3 million, on top to make the project "more palatable" to opposed residents.
The council's dissenting vote came from David Finkel, who called the housing a mere "afterthought" to what he considered a "lousy idea."