But Council's Power is Limited
By Lynne Bronstein
The Culver Ice Arena has a big family of fans. On Monday night they packed the City Council Chamber to standing room capacity as they pleaded with the Council to find a way to put a future plan for the arena "on ice" and save the area's only facility for indoor ice skating.
The owners of the 52-year old ice arena have announced that the facility will close on February 2, although they are planning to keep the facility's condenser running until February 15. the owners of the property have reportedly leased the property to Planet Granite, a Northern California company that runs rock climbing, yoga, and fitness centers.
A web site, SaveCulverIce.org and a petition site, "Save Our Ice Rink" have been established by concerned community members and other users of the ice rink. To date, more than 11,000 signatures have been collected in support of saving the arena.
Those signatures were delivered to the City Council by one of the more than 30 people who appeared during a lengthy public comment segment of the meeting.
The crowd included parents, girls dressed in glittery figure skating outfits, boys and men wearing hockey shirts and jackets, people carrying colorful protest signs, hockey and figure skating coaches, TV cameramen, and Olympic figure skating champion Tai Babilonia.
"I call [the rink] my 'frozen playground,' " said Babilonia, who described how she developed her skating skills at the arena and spent "more time there than I did with my family.....my family would drop me off and know that I was safe and protected."
Hockey player Andrew Carter mused about the "sights, sounds and even the smells" of the rink and how he hoped the arena would have a better fate than that of the ill-fated hockey team in the movie Slap Shot.
Eight-year old Naomi expressed the concerns of so many of the young speakers that there would be "no place for us to train for the Olympics" and added "Have you ever thought how just one thing can break hearts?"
Even City Council public comment regular Cary Anderson, although he had signed up to speak on a different issue, added his voice to the struggle as he noted: "If you took away Tito's Tacos, would you replace it with a Taco Bell? [The arena] is a cultural icon."
Despite the passionate advocacy, the Council wasn't sure what they could do to ensure the future of ice skating in Culver City.
City Manager John Nachbar made it clear at the outset of the public comment session that the city's powers to stop redevelopment of the arena site were limited.
"I deeply appreciate the passion that everyone brings to the issue," said Nachbar. "[But] this is private property. The set of individuals who own the property have entered into a lease with a new lessee. They have the right to do so. Realistically, there is nothing the city can do to ensure that this remains an ice rink."
Some speakers had suggestions for saving the property. Among these were the idea that the new lessee might use the arena's parking lot for an outdoor rock climbing facility and still run the indoor ice rink; enlisting the help of the Los Angeles Kings to help buy or lease the facility; designating the property as a historic landmark (although landmark designation would protect only the building); and getting the city to take over the arena and run it.
This last idea, as Nachbar and Council members noted, is unrealistic, due to the city's lack of money to pay for the property and maintenance of the facility.
But Council member Mehaul O' Leary said that he saw "crying" out in the audience-and he couldn't bear to see people crying.
"I want to still believe that something can be done," he said, prompting great applause from the audience.
To that purpose, O' Leary introduced the motion that the Council agendize the issue of the ice rink for the next Council meeting.
Other Council members agreed.
The Council may, at that meeting, receive information and discuss possible challenges to the new development on environmental grounds.
As several speakers pointed out, the removal of the ice from the building poses health and safety problems, over which the Council does have jurisdiction.
The Council could also discuss the mechanism by which the property could be designated for historic status.
Jim Clarke also suggested that the Council discuss the potential financial impact that closing the ice rink might have on Culver City versus the financial impact of a new rock climbing facility.
Nobody could promise the ice rink supporters that their "frozen playground," the training ground of future figure skaters, hockey players, and Olympic champions, would survive.
"I am not happy tonight," said Mayor Jeff Cooper. "Listening to all these people has made me sad, as I realize how limited our powers are."
But O'Leary urged the people to not give up hope and to see if they themselves could come up with ways to save their beloved ice palace.