“An unprecedented amount of excitement” was City Council member Kevin McKeown’s wry characterization of the number of development projects planned for construction during the next five to 10 years in Santa Monica. His comment was made at Feb. 1 council meeting, one of two important meetings Santa Monicans held this week to discuss all the development proposals on the table.
McKeown’s comment was in direct response to the City staff team motto, “Be excited. Be prepared.” Staff presented council with an overview report of the projects planned for construction in the downtown and civic center areas in the next five years: Colorado Avenue Esplanade from Fourth Street to Ocean Avenue; capping the Santa Monica/Interstate 10 Freeway at Ocean Avenue; California Incline replacement; Santa Monica Pier bridge replacement; Exposition Light Rail Downtown Station at Fourth Street and Colorado Avenue; Civic Center parks; Civic Center Village housing; Olympic Drive extension from Main Street to Ocean Avenue; Civic Auditorium renovation; Early Childhood Center at the Civic Center; Santa Monica High School new facilities; Parking structure 6 re-build; bike centers in Parking structures 7 and 8; AMC Theater project; City-owned Fourth/Fifth Street and Arizona Avenue site; and several hotel projects including the renovation of the Miramar Hotel, construction of the Shore Hotel, and a proposed hotel at 710 Wilshire.
The Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) anticipated and included all these projects. What the council was being asked to review and discuss was the timing and management of the construction of the projects and the City staff proposals for management of the traffic impacts of the proposed projects.
Speaking at the Chamber of Commerce’s State of the City on Jan. 27, City Manager Rod Gould addressed these same issues with candor. “Although the General Plan protects 94 percent of the town from more intensive development and only allows larger projects along certain transit corridors, these projects will be seen and felt as they are constructed. There will be noise, dust, detours, and inconvenience, but the payoffs will be long lasting and allow the City to emerge stronger from this historic recession than when it went in.
“This year begins what is likely to be a period of transformative change in Santa Monica. Major public and private reinvestments will yield a more beautiful, livable, economically viable, environmentally healthy, and safe City.”
The City staff report presented at the Feb. 1 council meeting, underscores the message of transformative change. “This exciting vision requires that implementation is carefully planned and managed. The City has a host of unique and transformative opportunities that few cities are fortunate to have. With the reality that a range of projects may be constructed in near proximity and within a close time frame, it is important to ensure that the act of ‘placemaking’ allows the ‘place’ to continue to function. The City will focus on the details of implementation to ensure minimal disruption.” The main portion of the staff report rightly focuses on planning for traffic and parking management during construction of the projects for the next five years to be coordinated by a City staff team.
City Council member Pam O’Connor seemed to be expressing the feelings of the council when she said, “I hope that the 2040 city council will say that infrastructure improvements made by council, staff, and the community in the second decade of the 21st Century are still serving us well.” She went on to recognize the problems of traffic congestion due to this level of construction, saying, “We have to realize that there may be problems and there may be whining, and I may be one of the whiners.” I don’t think O’Connor will be alone in her traffic, parking, and circulation concerns.
In his State of the City speech Gould said, “Our fair city is well positioned for civic advancement … due to its social, political, and economic strengths including: smart, sophisticated, and engaged citizens who strongly support sustainable and progressive local government and a clear consensus on the kind of city its residents expect and deserve, including issues of social equity, environmental stewardship, and economic vitality.”
So let’s get some of the “smart, sophisticated, and engaged citizens” that Gould so well acknowledged to be part of the team that looks at the traffic and circulation problems that are inherent whenever there is construction. We need to do more than “manage” traffic problems. We need creative and fun ideas for alternatives to the car that make Santa Monica a more fun place to live, work, shop, dine, and play.
What didn’t get discussed, at either meeting, was whether or not this was the only, the right, or the best schedule for this quantity of concentrated construction. Whether or not it is the right, the only, or the best schedule is something I hope will be taken to the neighborhood groups, as well as the council, for discussion.
The projects are located in the downtown and Civic Center areas, but the traffic impacts will affect all residents and everyone who comes to the city. It would be ironic indeed if Santa Monicans started going out of the city to shop or dine because the traffic in Santa Monica made going to our own downtown unpalatable.
What Say You?