A shared parking plan at the Yahoo! Center was approved by the Santa Monica City Council in a contentious 5-2 vote on June 14, with council members and residents grappling over the fifth application for an amendment to the property owner’s development agreement with the City. The shared parking plan is touted to help foster the City of Santa Monica’s Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE).
It was a controversial agenda item, as residents were rather hostile toward the council both during public comment and moments after the vote was announced. While the City’s staff members urged council members to approve the fifth application for amendment, this time to allow for greater parking management and traffic efficiency in the surround area, community members accused the applicant of violating certain provisions of the development agreement (DA).
“The item before you this evening for shared-parking at Yahoo! Center is an item that has stirred a great deal of concern in the community,” said Eileen Fogarty, the City’s outgoing planning director.
On its face, the Yahoo! Center’s fifth application for amendment to its DA called for a change in the distribution of parking spots to tenants from one per 322 square feet of office-floor area to one per 500 square feet of office-floor area. By reducing the number of parking spaces allotted to Yahoo! Center’s leased tenants, the amendment application would ultimately allow for as many as 1,053 parking spaces to be made available for off-site businesses or customers.
Also, the amendment application called for the implementation of a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) program. Through the TDM Program, the shared-parking programs would allow for more efficient parking management and decrease the need to build new parking structures in the area surrounding Yahoo! Center. Accordingly, the City’s staff believes Yahoo! Center’s fifth application for amendment to the DA would foster the intent of the LUCE.
“This is an item that was very important from the City’s perspective because the City desired shared parking,” Fogarty said, adding Bergamot Station [see page A7 for “Bergamot Plan Continues Development”] would be directly affected by the council’s action on Yahoo! Center, as the two locations are only one-quarter of a mile apart. “When you look at an area like Bergamot … shared-parking is going to be critical to that area.”
Bergamot Station is one of the three planned stops of the Exposition Light Rail line; staff envisioned that area as figuring nicely into the vision of the LUCE to promote no new peak evening hour automobile trips and increased pedestrian activity.
Valerie Griffin, chair of the Wilshire/Montana Neighborhood Coalition, made some suggestions as to how the TDM and shared-parking programs should best be implemented.
“The TDM must include monitoring and actions to be taken if goals are not met. If actual parking requirements increase, parking must be removed from the pool of shared parking and restored to project parking,” Griffin said. “When shared parking is to be made available, nearby residents should have priority over its use by any remote business. This public benefit is only fair recompense for the additional income generated by leasing the parking.”
Other community members urged council members to not move forward with the shared-parking plan. Some accused the council of preferential treatment or failing to hold Yahoo! Center accountable for terms of the DA it allegedly violated. At the heart of the issue was the perception that Yahoo! Center sought the DA amendment application for shared-parking in order to cover up for its practice of profiting both from charging tenants a fee and leasing parking spaces to outside businesses.
Accordingly, nearly 250 residents signed a petition that was presented to the council by Julie Brown, accusing Yahoo! Center for unreasonably using terms of the DA to its unfair advantage.
“Santa Monica residents gave approval in 1981 to allow the building to be taller than the buildings surrounding it for specific public benefits,” Brown said. “Now they are asking to make permanent what they have secretly and wrongfully done for over a decade. To (approve of) this would be to reward them for violating the agreement.”
Another resident, Patricia Crane, said Yahoo! Center was manipulating the DA to its advantage and evoked a workers-versus-the-wealthy argument in denouncing the amendment application.
“At a time when residents are being asked to pay higher taxes, higher fees for recreational programs, and steeper bus fares, the Yahoo! Amendment will allow Yahoo! to profit from our shared-parking philosophy,” Crane said. “But what of the workers who will begin to pay to park there. The rich can buy parking, but workers and the poor will take to the streets.”
Active resident Catherine Eldridge also said Yahoo! Center failed to deliver on certain promises made to residents, such as community rooms, and the implementation of its own parking plan outside the purview of the DA.
After the public hearing, community members appeared to receive some support from Council members Kevin McKeown and Bobby Shriver, both were proponents of a substitute motion to put off making a decision on Yahoo! Center’s DA amendment application so the council could analyze it in further detail. McKeown also requested, should his colleagues agree in delaying a decision on the DA amendment application, a financial analysis be provided to the council.
“The fundamental problem for me … is I am being asked to represent the public in negotiating what is essentially a business deal,” McKeown said. “For … the council to know that we are negotiating a fair deal on behalf of the public we represent, we have to know what the parameters of the deal are . . . We have to understand what the magnitude here is.”
However, the substitute motion fell short of attaining a majority vote, and the original motion was back in play. That motion was ultimately passed with a 5-2 vote, with McKeown and Shriver voting against. Council member Pam O’Connor said the shared-parking plan will help benefit small businesses in the area by promoting greater foot traffic in the area.