After a lengthy discussion last Wednesday, Santa Monica’s Planning Commission decided not to make a recommendation to the City Council on the comprehensive update to the Civic Center Specific Plan (CCSP) or its associated Environmental Impact Report (EIR), but did recommend that Santa Monica Place be separated from the Civic Center Plan.
The City adopted the original CCSP in 1993 and radically revised it in 2002 after purchasing 11.3 acres from the RAND Corporation. The revised 2002 CCSP includes three small parks, a “town square,” the reconfiguration of streets in the Civic Center, and calls for the demolition of the old RAND buildings and the back portion of City Hall, the enlargement of the Civic Auditorium, construction of a 325-unit housing and retail complex, a new City Services building, a second bridge across the 10 Freeway from downtown Santa Monica, a playing field, a child care center and a parking structure that is now under construction.
Since the 2002 revision, additional street reconfigurations have been made. They include the realignment of Second Street to accommodate the Moreton Bay Fig Tree, a stronger bike connection to the signalized intersection (Fourth / Civic Center Drive) adjacent to the Santa Monica High School pedestrian / bicycle entrance, modification of the Olympic Drive View Corridor.
Four votes are needed to pass a motion and only four Commissioners were present at the meeting, because Commissioners Arlene Hopkins, Terry O’Day and Gwynne Pugh were absent.
Three Commissioners were ready to recommend that the Council approve both the Plan and the EIR, but Commissioner Julie Lopez-Dad said she couldn’t support the update to the CCSP because it didn’t “fulfill the community’s expectations in a wider sense.” The Commission then voted to recommend that if the Council adopted the CCSP, it should incorporate its suggestions in the plan.
Their suggestions included decking over the westerly end of the freeway, offering incidental food service on the south side of Olympic Drive, creating a landmark arch, and restricting the City services building to a height no taller than City Hall and designed to be non-intrusive.
The other three Commissioners – Dad, Darrell Clarke and Barbara Brown approved Commissioner Jay Johnson’s motion “to not take a position on the CCSP’s EIR but to make a statement of concern of the perceived inadequacy of the traffic methodology” used to develop the EIR and to “strongly recommend a comprehensive traffic flow reduction and management program that includes trams, shuttles, a reduction in bus and truck routes in the area and possible one-way streets and pedestrian only streets as an effort towards traffic mitigation.”
Johnson’s motion was prompted by a statement from local traffic expert Laurel Roennau who, on examining the traffic data in the proposal’s EIR found it to be “wrong.” She pointed out that the only “mitigation the EIR proposed to us is to increase our capacity and we’re already out of” ways to increase capacity in the City. “We need to look at reducing demand. The current method cannot do that. The EIR is just plain wrong.”
Roennau also reported that she reviewed the traffic data in the current EIR with the one done 10 years ago which studied many of the same intersections and found that, according to the data, “the traffic is better now than 10 years ago,” which, of course, it isn’t.
Roennau also noted the EIR “estimated traffic in the future using wrong numbers to get fewer significant impacted intersections and that saves the developer the cost and bother of coming up with mitigation for the impacts his projects will really cause.”The Commission agreed with the Civic Center ‘s Working Group’s recommendation that “Santa Monica Place be excised from the CCSP.” Commissioner Clarke, who is a member of the working group, thought this was an appropriate move as the project is being completely reworked and “we don’t know what it is going to look like.”