Santa Monica has big plans for a facelift before the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century, but the city’s businesses, residents, and visitors will have to endure an even bigger headache over the next five years as such projects break ground and reach fruition.
In all, there are 13 planned downtown and civic center area construction projects.
But these headaches will be worth it – at least that’s what the Santa Monica City Council members believe, stating the decisions the governing body will make this year regarding how planned developments over the next five years will positively affect Santa Monica for generations to come.
At a special meeting held at City Hall on Feb. 1, the Council agreed to receive and file a staff report presenting the potential impacts of a docket full of redevelopment projects in the downtown and civic center areas.
The special meeting was called to discuss the City staff’s report on “projects approved and proposed in the Civic Center and Downtown areas” over the next five years, all while allowing local residents and businesses the opportunity to voice any concerns.
“The reason we brought the study session is to show the community the breadth of what we are doing,” said Rod Gould, Santa Monica’s city manager. “It will be a period … of transformative change. There will be inconvenience, there will be dust, there will be noise, there will be detours and disruption. All of those things are real.
“But the payoffs will also be very real. It will lead to a more sustainable, greener, more beautiful, and safer city as a result. Future generations will thank you for it.”
Putting the planned construction projects in context and stressing the need to coordinate construction was Council member Kevin McKeown, who said the planned revamping of the downtown and civic center areas are unprecedented in his lifetime in Santa Monica.
“I lived here most of my life. I’ve seen so much going on at one time in our city. I do hope we can learn from experience but we are really heading into uncharted territory here,” McKeown said, adding he also wanted feedback from staff of impacts of increased traffic through residential neighborhoods during heavy construction periods over the next few years. “This is going to be a period in purgatory for all of us and I really want to be sure it’s worth it.”
While City staff presented its case for a slate of major projects in the civic center and downtown areas to be executed by 2015, the biggest concern was parking. Specifically, residents and businesses alike expressed anxiety over an interim parking plan and the prospects of a parking deficit, especially in light of plans to simultaneously close down parking structures 3 (on Fourth Street) and 6 (on Second Street) during the construction phases.
Parking structure 3 is being torn down to make way for a planned AMC movie theater, while structure 6 will be undergoing reconstruction and expansion.
Even more, according to the five-year timeline presented in the staff report, as many as 11 of the 13 proposed projects may be simultaneously underway in 2013, fueling the public’s concern of parking and traffic.
“We are very concerned the removal of the parking structure will be detrimental to our clients and their tenants,” said attorney Paula Mayeda, whose firm represents a commercial property on the northwest corner of Fourth Street and Santa Monica Boulevard. “Under [the California Environmental Quality Act], in order to fully mitigate the loss of a parking structure and its impact, the City needs to provide parking that is a functional equivalent of the structure in terms of number of spaces and in terms of location.
“Our goal is to ensure the interim parking plan is implemented and tested prior to the approval of the AMC project.”
A parking consultant from Pasadena engineering firm Linscott, Law, and Greenspan was glummer about the issue, stating parking is a major issue today – and construction has yet to begin.
“My primary concern is the speculative and untested nature of any of the elements of the interim parking plan (and) parking that will be lost during construction,” said David Shender, a parking consultant to two property owners in downtown Santa Monica. “We are very concerned about (the reference) in the staff presentation of a vibrant downtown. That is one point of view. Another point of view is that downtown is choking on itself. Many of the parking structures in downtown, in fact nearly all of them, are operating at more than 90 percent utilization throughout any typical weekday.”
Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis seemed to agree with Shender’s sense of urgency in addressing parking issues.
“I think we really need to look for the low hanging fruit. What can we do to increase parking availability, improve circulation, now,” Davis stated. “My concern is we can meet with ourselves until we are silly, but tomorrow there are going to be people looking for parking in downtown and using bad words because they can’t find it.”
Focusing on the big picture and putting a positive spin on the ambitious yet challenging construction projects was Council member Pam O’Connor, who said the current council has an opportunity to leave its mark on future generations based upon how it decides to move forward in coordinating the next five years of development.
“We are a creative city. We can come up with ideas, we can work together,” O’Connor said. “My goal is we get this done, so you have a city council sitting here in 2040 looking back and saying, the infrastructure investments that council and that City staff made … have served us and [are] still serving us in 2040.”
The staff report, which is the “first of periodic reports,” indicated several developments were identified in 2009 by the Redevelopment Agency (RDA) as “priority proposed projects,” including: projects related to the Exposition Line, such as its terminus; green streets and pathways for roadway, pedestrian, bike and transit improvements; a Downtown Parking Strategic Plan; a Bike Transit Center; Parking Structure 6 construction; California Incline construction; Pier Bridge replacement; allocations for Civic Center parks, Civic auditorium renovations; an Early Childhood Education Center at Santa Monica College; joint uses with Santa Monica High School; and shared civic center parking.
In accordance with the Brown Act, the Council could not consider discussion on permanent parking alternatives although many speakers raised the issue during public forum. Under the Brown Act, the Council could discuss only issues notified on the official agenda, such as the interim parking plan.
Council members Bob Holbrook and Bobby Shriver were not present at the Feb. 1 special meeting.