With a 5 to 1 vote, Santa Monica’s Planning Commission approved a new Development Review Permit (DRP) for the Big Blue Bus (BBB) Facility Master Plan, with conditions.
A new DRP was necessary because the master plan no longer includes a new three-story administration building with subterranean parking, but instead retains the existing administration building. In addition, a 100-space surface parking lot and a perimeter wall will be constructed along Colorado Ave. These changes were made, according to City officials, due to financial constraints.
Prior to the September 20 vote, there was a lot of discussion about whether the proposed 100-space parking lot could be utilized by the community during the non-peak use times of the bus company. Miriam Molder, the City’s Project Manager for this project, stated such a use was not possible because the lot as proposed would now be open to the bus yard. Therefore, opening it to the community presents “a security issue” that Homeland Security and the Federal Transportation Authority rules would prohibit. Additionally, the Director of the BBB, Stephanie Negriff, claimed that almost all the parking spaces from the new lot would be needed either for employees who work in the 24-hour bus maintenance area or for the motor coach operators.
Commission Chair Gwynne Pugh asked Negriff, “At your peak, how many employees park at the Blue Bus site?” Negriff responded, “I don’t have a precise answer. I have to go back to an analysis we did three years ago.”
The lack of information on the Big Blue Bus’s utilization of parking prompted the Commission to require BBB to prepare a parking analysis as one of their conditions of approval of the DRP. Supplying information for the perimeter wall proposed along Colorado Ave. was the second condition of approval. That information was also not available for the Commission’s discussion.
“Incomplete information” was the reason Commissioner Julie Lopez-Dad decided to vote against approving the DRP.
The majority of the Commission felt it was necessary to approve the DRP so that the BBB could move forward with the construction of its new maintenance building. According to Molder, the City won’t be able to afford to build a new maintenance facility due “to the current rates of escalation” of construction costs if construction isn’t started now. She stressed the building “is urgently needed” because “the current building is quite old for all the alternative fuel vehicles they’ve purchased.”
The BBB will be making a presentation to the City Council on the changes to their master plan on October 10.