If the Santa Monica City Council continues to approve programs and projects to draw visitor and tourist dollars to the local economy, it will have to find space for all those cars to park.
With an onslaught of new development projects on the docket and plans to tear down a pair of downtown-area parking structures on the immediate horizon, the council moved forward with two directives, one addressing short- and long-term parking stall shortages and the other instituting an interim downtown parking plan. Specifically, the council recommended beginning the planning process to build a new subterranean parking lot in the Civic Center area.
As the council went deep into the night and thoroughly deliberated the parking issues with a slew of questions and public comments, Council member Terry O’Day jokingly said Tuesday’s meeting may have well been dubbed “Parking Night.” With the Council meeting ending shortly after midnight, it might as well have been, as Mayor Richard Bloom humorously alluded, “Parking Morning.” Yet the council hoped Tuesday’s meeting was a positive first step in addressing the concerns about parking-related issues in the city’s high traffic areas.
The council delved “head-in first” into the availability of parking resources with the Civic Center/Downtown Parking Assessment discussion.
“What staff is asking us to do tonight is to decide what is possible,” said Council member Kevin McKeown. “The basic decision we are being asked to make here tonight is that it makes more sense in the long run to (build) parking under the Civic Center lot, and I find myself having to agree with that premise.”
For the parking assessment and shared parking strategy agenda item, the council approved a Civic Center subterranean parking structure with a 5-1 vote on a site “with the smallest feasible footprint beneath the existing … surface parking lot” which, according to a report, would add as many as 1,000 new spaces.
Many residents and local business owners were worried a subterranean parking structure in the Civic Center area was too far for anyone visiting or working at the Santa Monica Pier or the Third Street Promenade, ergo directly impacting business. Others did not think a parking reduction strategy was the ideal solution.
The most notable parking objections came from Pier vendors, who stated there are just not enough vehicular slots at the City’s most iconic facility to handle the inundation of visitors whenever Southern California experiences pleasant or warm climates.
“We need that amenity, that tool – parking – to be able to compete,” said Don Camacho, whose family owns and operates Marisol at the end of the Santa Monica Pier.
Other downtown and pier area businesses expressed similar concern of the potential loss of business due to the low supply and high demand of parking spaces on a daily basis at public parking structures and lots. Members of the Santa Monica Pier Restoration Committee (PRC) urged the council to consider building a subterranean lot underneath the proposed Palisades Garden Walk, as its location near Colorado and Ocean avenues makes such a location convenient to the pier.
Council member Bobby Shriver was the lone dissenting vote on the subterranean parking matter. Shriver suggested possible use of privately owned parking structures along and around Ocean Boulevard as a possible means to increase the supply of spaces within a few minutes walk of the pier or Third Street Promenade.
Several potential obstacles stood in the way of the council’s plans, of course, most notably the potential elimination of redevelopment funds – from which funding for the various parking projects would originate. Also, according to the staff report, a parking structure underneath Palisades Garden Walk would cost approximately $63.5 million, or $38.5 million over budget, in order to incorporate plans to build a 450-foot tunnel leading into the structure.
In addition to the parking assessment, the council convened a Parking Authority joint meeting and approved an interim downtown parking plan that relocated select monthly parkers and offered them various incentives in return.
Specifically, monthly parkers in the downtown area – such as Parking Structure 6 – were offered a reduced parking rate of $67.50 per month, shuttle service from Civic Center to downtown, and a monthly Big Blue Bus pass at no cost. Currently, the affected monthly parkers are paying between $82.50 and $125 at other structures.
Awaiting the completion of downtown-area parking structure projects in order to determine changes in supply and demand of parking spaces, the council also held off on deciding on the construction of a new Civic Center parking structure and directed staff to look into the Pier’s daily parking needs.
Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis was not in attendance at the March 8 Council meeting.