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Amusement Park on Pier OKd : Development: Planning Commission's action angers many neighbors. They predict a likelihood of increased crime and gang violence.

March 05, 1992|JEFF KRAMER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SANTA MONICA — After an often anguished debate that never strayed far from the issue of gang violence, the Planning Commission approved a permanent amusement park on Santa Monica Pier, setting the stage for a likely appeal by angry neighbors who insist that the so-called "Fun Zone" will bring more crime to the area.

The commission's 6-1 vote, which included approval of a 115-foot Ferris wheel and a small roller coaster, left some residents near tears on Monday as they lashed out at the city for ignoring their concerns.

"Most of you are not even aware of the neighborhood you have just condemned," said Leigh Kavanaugh, owner of a hotel near the pier.

The matter now goes to the City Council. Opponents of the project are expected to take their objections over the commission's decision to the council, claiming that key groups, including neighbors, were left out of the planning process.

"I was not consulted and I resent it," resident Dayle Kerry said, glaring at the commission.

The amusement park idea, aimed at recapturing the essence of the pier's mid-century heyday as a popular amusement park, generated considerable interest after it was included in a 1988 master plan of the area, but attention has waned since that time.

Several commissioners agreed that the city had done a poor job of consulting residents about the specifics of the project.

Commissioner Tom Pyne, who cast the lone vote against the park, admonished city planners and the public-private Pier Restoration Corp. for failing to win the support of neighbors, businesses and the local tourist industry.

"If a private developer came in and acted like that, we'd skin him alive," Pyne said.

Two commissioners, Sharon Gilpin and Jennifer Polhemus, voted against certifying the environmental impact report, saying it inadequately addressed concerns ranging from traffic to crime to energy use.

The 70,000-square-foot Fun Zone, which would be built near the existing carousel, is expected to cost $6.5 million, $500,000 of which would be paid by the city. The remainder would be paid for by the developer, yet to be selected.

Along with the procedural questions, the commission Monday found itself tiptoeing through a minefield of race- and class-related issues as it brought to a close a hearing continued from the week before.

Pointing to an "unspoken undertone" of racism in previous discussions about the project, Commissioner Paul Rosenstein questioned the concerns of those worried about "which types of people" might be attracted to such a facility.

"If it's a concern about race, then it's a concern I feel is inappropriate," he said.

Along similar lines, Commissioner Donald Nelson described gangs as a fact of life, as likely to cause trouble at hospitals or stores as at an amusement park.

"What I'm seeing is a pushing out of the lower-end economic strata from this society," he said, adding "We have to remember--this (pier) is a cultural resource."

Pyne had argued for a "mixed-use" development on the pier, saying the city should do more than build a "church carnival" on a potentially lucrative piece of property. A retail center was recently knocked out of the proposal.

"We did it on Main Street," he said of the city's upscale renovation there. "We did it on the (Third Street) Promenade. Why can't we do it here?"

Other commissioners, however, accepted the proposal's general thrust: to provide easy public access and affordable entertainment to visitors of all ages and income levels, especially families, young people and those of modest means.

The city has been operating the pier at an annual deficit of $900,000 and has so far resisted the temptation of a lucrative, revenue-producing redevelopment.

Commissioner Rosenstein lauded Santa Monica for its high principles. "Many cities would take the easy way out and go for the big bucks," he said.

But some who live near the pier are taking a grittier view, contending that their fears are based not on racism but on spiraling crime in the area.

An amusement park, resident Kerry said, will be "an invitation to trouble."

The pier now attracts 3 million visitors annually.

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