Council Meeting: April 23, 2002                              Santa Monica, California

 

TO:                              Mayor and City Council

 

FROM:                        City Staff

 

SUBJECT:                 Civic Center Conceptual Land Use Plan

 

 

INTRODUCTION

This report recommends that the City Council review staff analysis of Civic Center planning issues, give full conceptual approval of the Land Use Plan for the Civic Center, authorize the Civic Center Working Group and staff to begin preparation of the written Civic Center Specific Plan and related environmental review, and authorize the City Manager to negotiate and execute a contract amendment with the ROMA Design Group for preparation of the environmental impact report and completion of the written Specific Plan.

 

BACKGROUND

The Civic Center Land Use Plan (see Exhibit 1) was developed following many months of community workshops facilitated by the Civic Center Working Group.  On February 5, 2002, the City Council took public comment and conceptually approved the proposed Civic Center Land Use Plan, with direction to return to Council with analysis and recommendations regarding several specific elements of the plan.  

 

DISCUSSION

At its February 5, 2002 meeting, the City Council asked staff and consultants to analyze six specific issues related to the Civic Center Plan, including:

§         Incorporating dedicated sports field space;

§         Expediting the potential development of sports field space;

§         Enhancing cultural amenities, including performing arts, visual arts, artist live-work housing, and integration of art into the area;

§         Circulation options, including eliminating Olympic Drive west of Second Street, creating a continuous connection between Second and Main Streets, and placing streets underground;

§         Parking options, including parking needs from other neighborhoods, placing parking under open space, and neighborhood impacts; and

§         Increasing the number of housing units, including increasing the density of housing and expanding the footprint of housing.

Analysis of these issues is provided below.

 

DEDICATED SPORTS FIELD SPACE

During the community planning process, the Civic Center Working Group heard from many community members who asked for the inclusion of a maximum amount of flexible open space that could accommodate a variety of activities, such as informal sports and recreational activities, walking, bicycling, jogging, community events, arts festivals, contemplative activities, children’s play and games, and picnics.  Very few participants recommended that the plan include fields dedicated for permit sports uses.  Since the Working Group concluded its recommendation on the conceptual land use plan, many community members have expressed their desire for dedicated sports field space to be made available for organized high school and youth sports group activities.  In addition, the school board has taken action to authorize its staff to pursue inclusion of field space in the southeast portion of the Civic Center.

 

Field space needs:  Field space in Santa Monica is multi-purpose in nature and not dedicated to one sport, with the exception of two fields at Memorial Park that are only used for baseball.  While many local sports leagues have difficulty finding sufficient field playing time to meet their demands, this need is most acute in soccer, which has experienced significant growth over the past generation.  The growth in the popularity of soccer has impacted other sports such as baseball, softball and, more recently, junior football, which compete for the same limited field space.  The enhancement of fields at four elementary school sites and the future development of Airport Park will help to address the field space shortage in the community.  It is anticipated that Airport Park, which will have two soccer fields, will address much of the current demand of youth soccer and provide other fields with more restorative time.  With night lighting, these fields may also begin to address adult soccer demand, which currently cannot be accommodated. 

 

Even with the addition of fields at the elementary schools and at the Airport, there is still an unmet need given the continued growth in youth and adult sports.  Furthermore, Santa Monica High School lacks sufficient field space for physical education classes, intramural sports, interscholastic team sports and band practice.  School district officials estimate that Santa Monica High School could make use of two additional full-size sports fields from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. on weekdays and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays.  Organized community sports groups could make use of additional sports resources on weekday afternoons and evenings from 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. and all day on Saturdays.  Traditionally, the City targets Sundays for informal community use.  Field space in the Civic Center could help with these community and high school needs through a balanced use schedule that allows time for field maintenance and rest.

 

Sports Field Alternatives:  Exhibit 2 depicts the area and field configurations that would be required for two sports fields that are appropriately sized to accommodate high school teams and youth and adult community leagues.  Developing two sports fields in an optimal north-south orientation would require demolition of the Civic Auditorium.  Developing two sports fields with an east-west orientation, which is not optimal given the direction of the sun, would eliminate the opportunity for a performing arts facility, the cultural and community expansion and improvement of the Civic Auditorium, and an early childhood facility at the most feasible location in the Civic Center.  Developing two fields, one with an optimal north-south orientation and one with an east-west orientation, could preserve the cultural and community expansion of the Civic Auditorium, but would eliminate the opportunity for a performing arts facility and an early childhood facility at the most feasible location in the Civic Center.   This option would also require the sports field fences to be located immediately adjacent to the sidewalks of Pico Boulevard and Civic Center Drive, without landscaped transition zones.

 

There are few options for accommodating these dislocated cultural and educational uses elsewhere in the Civic Center, unless the City Council wishes to consider the Palisades Garden Walk as a development site rather than as a park.  The childcare facility has special needs beyond its building footprint, including a large private play area, a vehicle drop-off area, and convenient parking (preferably surface parking), which would make it difficult to integrate the childcare facility into the Village Area or the Palisades Garden Walk.

 

Exhibit 3 depicts the Civic Auditorium area with one sports field that is appropriately sized to accommodate high school teams and youth and adult community sports.  This alternative would allow for an early childhood facility, an expansion of the Civic Auditorium’s East Wing to enhance cultural and community uses, and a field with goal zones facing a north-south direction.  This configuration would also allow for pedestrian pathways through the park and landscaped zones between the field fences and the sidewalks.

 

Sports Field Considerations:  In addition to space availability, there are several important operational and community design considerations with respect to dedicated field space at the site of the current Civic Auditorium parking lot.  One of the most important is the relationship between the field space and the Civic Auditorium.  The community planning process identified a desire for the Auditorium to focus on community and cultural events, such as performing arts, visual arts, and community gatherings.  This proposal includes an expansion of the Auditorium’s East Wing to include visual arts space and community rooms, as well as an opportunity for the Auditorium to be integrally related to the adjacent open space, allowing community and cultural events to utilize the adjacent open space as an “outdoor room” for events.  If this vision is to carry into the future, it will be important to develop a programming plan that allows the field space to be reserved for community events as well as organized sports. 

 

Another consideration with respect to dedicated field space is that it could largely eliminate opportunities for other community uses that can take advantage of flexible open space.  For example, the Civic Auditorium park site as recommended by the Civic Center Working Group includes large open turf areas that could accommodate a variety of uses, including informal sports activities that are enjoyed by many adults and youths in Santa Monica.  As Santa Monica has very few spaces that can accommodate families or friends coming together to play sports, it will be important that the programming of any dedicated field space is flexible enough to allow for informal, drop-in periods. 

 

Sports field space in the Civic Center is expected to appeal to both Santa Monica High School and community sports groups.  However, natural turf fields would be unable to accommodate heavy use by both of these groups and achieve an acceptable level of maintenance.  If dedicated fields were to be included in the Civic Center, artificial turf could help meet the needs of both these groups.  Crossroads School has recently added an artificial turf field that has been well received at the school.  Although the capital cost is estimated to be approximately four times higher than for a natural field, the additional usable hours appear to warrant this approach.  While the City has yet to experiment with artificial turf, this appears to be a prime opportunity.  One key disadvantage of artificial turf is that it may be largely unsuitable for events due to its impermeable surface.  This could limit the availability of this space for most community, cultural or Civic Auditorium-related events.  It would also require secured access, strict guidelines and heavy supervision to ensure that only permitted uses are allowed in the space.

 

Under either alternative, the sports field space will require fencing adjacent to Fourth Street and Pico Boulevard as a safety and security measure.  School district officials have recommended that fencing be a minimum of 18 feet high adjacent to Pico Boulevard and Fourth Streets and up to 12 feet adjacent to the west and north community uses.  The greening of the Civic Auditorium parking lot and open access have been important measures for creating a gateway to the Civic Center from the Ocean Park Neighborhood.  These large fences may be perceived as creating a physical barrier between the Civic Center and the Ocean Park neighborhood.  The fences may also create a barrier between the Civic Center and Santa Monica High School.  Opportunities to minimize fencing will be critical and pathways must be maintained through this area to create a connection with Ocean Park and, if feasible, with the adjacent high school campus. 

 

Noise is another critical concern with respect to the dedicated sports field space.  Organized sports are expected to have negative impacts on the quiet spaces required for the adjacent early childhood facility and the cultural facilities proposed for this area.  The estimated costs for these facilities will increase in order to accommodate special soundproof construction.

 

County representatives have communicated that locating playfields near the Santa Monica Courthouse is unacceptable because eight courtrooms on the south side of the building would be severely impacted by the field noise (see Exhibit 16).  These impacts would be particularly acute if there were two playfields.  Under the one-playfield scenario, it may be possible for the early childhood facility to shield the Courthouse from noise impacts of the playfield.  However, more study is necessary in light of the potential impacts to the early childhood facility.    

 

Summary:  As a result of the issues discussed above, staff recommends against the inclusion of two dedicated playfields.  One dedicated playfield could be accommodated, however, this will impact the quality of the cultural amenities and the configuration of the early childhood facility and may be strongly opposed by the County.  Additional discussion of these issues in included below in the Cultural Amenities section of this report.

 

CULTURAL AMENITIES

Cultural amenities will diversify the activities of the Civic Center and help make it a place that is valued by the entire Santa Monica community.  The Working Group-recommended plan includes an expanded Civic Auditorium with a focus on community and cultural events, as well as a site for a performing arts facility of up to 500 seats.  The February 5, 2002 Council meeting discussion included four elements to enrich the cultural vitality of the Civic Center, including performing arts, visual arts, artist live-work housing, and broad integration of the arts.  The Santa Monica Cultural Arts Master Plan identifies the need for more performing arts spaces and visual arts exhibition spaces in Santa Monica, while the need for live-work space to support Santa Monica artists is detailed in the Artist Live/Work and Studio Space study.

 

Developing arts facilities requires detailed study of market opportunities, proposed programming and potential events prior to establishing exact requirements regarding facility size and configuration.  Such thorough information regarding arts facility requirements and costs cannot be provided at this stage of the planning process.  However, general information regarding opportunities for these facilities is provided below.

 

Performing Arts:  A survey commissioned by the Audrey Skirball Kennis Theatre Project has identified the need for a mid-size theater in the Santa Monica / West Los Angeles area.   In order to accommodate such a theater, a site of approximately three-quarters of an acre would be required for a 300- to 700-seat facility with up to 175 parking spaces.  In addition, the Civic Center Working Group has recommended that the proposed 500-seat Santa Monica College Madison Theater be relocated to the Civic Center.

 

Two locations could be considered for the theater.  One option is to site the theater immediately adjacent to the Civic Auditorium where the East Wing meeting room currently sits.  This location presents opportunities to share facilities (dressing rooms, pre-function space, box office, etc.) between the Civic Auditorium Main Hall and the mid-size theater.  Major drawbacks of this location are that the theater’s fly space will require a high-profile addition that may detract from the landmarked architectural facade of the Auditorium, the proposed underground parking will be insufficient to serve both the theater and the Auditorium Main Hall, and the elimination of the flexible space in the East Wing will result in limitations on the activities that can occur at the Auditorium.

 

The second potential location for a theater is at the southwest corner of Civic Center Drive and Fourth Street, as recommended by the Working Group.  Due to its separation from the Auditorium, a theater at this site could fully develop a unique architectural statement with a full theater fly space.  However, placing a theater at this site would necessitate that the parking for the childcare facility and park be placed underground, making the parking less desirable and avoided by park users and parents of children in the early childhood center. 

 

The Working Group-recommended proposal for community and cultural programs at the Civic Auditorium presents an important opportunity to enhance the role of performing arts in the Civic Center.  The Auditorium’s main hall, which seats up to 3,000 people for theater, music and dance, could potentially be reconfigured for a variety of smaller performances, from theater-in-the-round on the main hall floor to black box-style performances on the stage.  Such a strategy could help meet the needs for performance space without requiring the dedication of land for a new performance facility in the Civic Center.   

 

The Working Group recommended that the proposed Santa Monica College 500-seat Madison Theater be located at the southwest corner of Fourth Street and Civic Center Drive.  In order to accommodate the college theater, additional space for classrooms and teaching studios would be required.  Dedicated underground parking would also be necessary, as the college facility would be used on weekdays as well as evenings and weekends.  In order to be competitive with the Madison School site, any proposal for location of the college theater at this site would require City funding of the teaching support space and underground parking, a subsidy that could range in the tens of millions of dollars.  Santa Monica College has indicated that they are not interested in locating their theater in the Civic Center area. 

 

Visual Arts Exhibition Facility:  Arts Commission representatives have recommended the inclusion of a 20,000-square foot professional visual arts exhibition facility that could accommodate a wide variety of changing art exhibits of interest to the broader Santa Monica community.  The Working Group-recommended plan includes a 20,000-square foot expansion of the Civic Auditorium to accommodate community and cultural uses.   In the Working Group plan, this space is envisioned as a flexible, multi-use facility that could house City and community meetings, and art exhibits and events.  Alternatively, the expansion space could be utilized exclusively as an arts exhibition space, provided that it includes flexible space to support events in the Auditorium.

 

Artist Live-Work Housing:  Including artist housing in the Civic Center is not only important with respect to the City’s arts goals, but also to the vibrancy and diversity of the Civic Center.  During the planning process, the community considered incorporating artist live-work units in the housing developments, including ground-floor artist units that would help to enliven the Village Green and associated pedestrian mews.  The Working Group considered this an important element of the Civic Center.  However, in order to provide for future opportunities, the Working Group and staff recommended against creating a requirement for a specific number of artist units to be included in the plan. 

 

The City Attorney has advised that state fair housing laws may prohibit the restriction of subsidized housing units to any groups of individuals, such as artists, that are not specifically protected under the law.  The units could be designed so that they are most appropriate for and largely appeal to artists who live and create in the same space.  However, designing for artists would not ensure occupancy by artists, particularly given the desirability of the location. 

 

Integrating the Arts into the Civic Center:  While stand-alone arts facilities provide focused cultural experiences, there are significant opportunities to integrate arts and culture into the everyday activity of the Civic Center.  Artists will be engaged in the design of public buildings and parks, so that art becomes an integral part of the physical infrastructure of the Civic Center.  The proposed open spaces can provide a venue for outdoor concerts, performances, art exhibits and other cultural events.  With a focus on community and cultural events, the Civic Auditorium also will play a critical role in the cultural life of the Civic Center.  Bringing cultural vitality to the Civic Center will require a concerted effort and an on-going commitment to programming and funding of cultural events. 

 

Summary:  The existing Civic Auditorium parking lot could accommodate a state-of-the- art theater at Fourth Street and Civic Center Drive and a professionally run visual arts exhibition area as the eastern expansion of the Civic Auditorium, as well as the proposed early childhood facility and continued operation of the Civic Auditorium (see Exhibit 4).  However, if a playfield is added, the 5.6-acre area cannot accommodate all of these uses and necessary parking without resulting in an overdeveloped area with too many competing and conflicting uses that dilute each other and erase the potential for connection with adjacent areas (see Exhibit 5).  Access to the below-grade theater and early childhood center parking would become particularly awkward as autos would have to access this parking through an underground connection from the Civic Center Parking Structure and only seven at-grade drop-off spaces would be available to the early childhood facility.  The playfield would also eliminate the opportunity for classrooms and teaching space to support a 500-seat College theater.

 

A visual arts exhibition facility as the eastern expansion of the Civic Auditorium is most likely to be compatible with the Auditorium and a potential playfield, provided that a minimum of 6,000 square feet of usable space is retained in the East Wing expansion to accommodate Auditorium-related functions.

 

Creating a first-class cultural program in the Civic Center will require a strong capital and operational commitment from the City.  New arts facilities will involve multi-million dollar capital campaigns, in addition to on-going funding to support facility administration, operations and programming.  As noted in the economic analysis completed during the planning process, community uses of the Civic Auditorium, whether cultural or more general community activities, will require an on-going programming and operations subsidy.  For example, the Torrance Cultural Arts Center, which has been identified by many as a model facility, requires a subsidy across several City departments of approximately three million dollars each year.

 

CIRCULATION

The plan recommended by the Civic Center Working Group includes a circulation system that is designed to support the proposed land-use program, enhance accessibility for all modes of travel, serve to better integrate the Civic Center with the surrounding neighborhoods, and contribute to the creation of an attractive public environment with pedestrian-oriented streets.  The City Council requested analysis regarding Olympic Drive, direct connection between Main Street and Second Street, underground streets, and terminus of the proposed regional light rail line.

 

Olympic Drive: The Working Group-recommended plan proposes that Olympic Drive, which will be constructed in concert with the Public Safety Facility between Fourth and Main Streets, be extended from Main Street to Ocean Avenue.  The City Council requested analysis of whether Olympic Drive should continue to Ocean Avenue.  This request arises primarily due to concerns that vehicles from Ocean Park and Downtown will use Olympic Drive as an alternate route to access the Santa Monica Freeway, thereby creating a congested roadway through the Civic Center.  Concerns have also been raised that the area dedicated for the street could be added to the adjacent open space.

 

While Olympic Drive will provide an alternative route for accessing the Fourth Street on-ramp to the freeway, such cut-through traffic will be discouraged by the nature of Olympic Drive, which will be a local street with a narrow 12-foot lane in each direction, on-street parking and multiple stop-controlled intersections.  As a slow-moving street, most motorists will likely consider Olympic Drive to be an inferior access route to Fourth Street.

 

There are several other considerations with respect to Olympic Drive, including integrating the Civic Center into the larger Santa Monica circulation grid so that it is accessible to all modes of transportation.  The construction of the Santa Monica Freeway and the RAND “Z” building resulted in the elimination of the east-west streets that connected Fourth Street with Ocean Avenue.  The removal of the streets isolated the Civic Center from adjacent neighborhoods as it created a superblock with minimal penetrability by any mode of travel, including autos.  Olympic Drive provides an opportunity to reintegrate the Civic Center into the rest of Santa Monica.

 

Olympic Drive is also critical as it provides access and support to the proposed housing development program.  A significant number of new residents will be living in the Civic Center area. Without Olympic Drive, these new residents will have to use Pico Boulevard or Colorado Avenue for east-west access, increasing congestion while decreasing accessibility and convenience for the residents and creating awkward and confusing access to the housing.  A critical reason for including Olympic Drive is to help relieve congestion on Pico and Colorado by redistributing traffic over a larger circulation grid.  By eliminating the street segment, more traffic will be concentrated on existing congested streets.

 

Olympic Drive also creates a public zone between the proposed housing and adjacent Palisades Garden Walk, allowing the park to develop a clear identity as a resource for the entire Santa Monica community, rather than being perceived as a private open space belonging to the adjacent housing, and allowing the housing to develop a sense of privacy.

 

The western leg of Olympic Drive is also important for providing transit access through the Civic Center, with the expectation that Olympic Drive will become an east-west bus route through the Civic Center and may eventually serve the Big Blue Bus Freeway Express bus.

 

Eliminating Olympic Drive will not significantly increase the land available for open space.  If Olympic Drive is eliminated, a 20-foot wide fire access lane is required to provide emergency access to the north side of the proposed Village housing.  Part of Palisades Garden Walk’s park space will need to be converted to parking in order to replace the convenient and accessible on-street parking that was provided along Olympic Drive to support the park (see Exhibit 6).  The net addition of open space is minimal, less than a tenth of an acre.

 

One of the important elements of creating a livable, walkable community is creating streets that are integrated into the community’s circulation grid.  The Ahwanee Principles, an internationally recognized set of planning concepts and implementation guidelines aimed at developing more livable and sustainable communities, includes the principle that streets should contribute to a system of fully connected routes to all destinations.  For example, Portland, Oregon, one of the most walkable and livable communities in the country, is recognized for its small blocks that provide full access to all destinations.  Extending Olympic Drive to Ocean Avenue will reinforce this principle within the Civic Center. 

 

Main Street and Second Street:  During the community planning process, the Working Group considered a variety of options for circulation between the Civic Center and the Downtown.  These included a direct connection between Main Street and Second Street (see Exhibit 7), as well as the street layout that is proposed in the Conceptual Plan, whereby Main Street and Second Street connect via Olympic Drive. 

 

One of the critical issues that the Working Group and the community considered is how the circulation system helps to define open spaces and building sites.   The direct link of Main and Second Streets disrupts the configuration of the Town Square and marginalizes it as an important community gathering place.  This street configuration also encourages increased auto speeds at the expense of pedestrians and increases the likelihood that drivers from the Downtown will utilize Olympic Drive as a short cut to the Santa Monica Freeway.

 

The Second and Main street configuration proposed in the Conceptual Plan allows for the full development of the Town Square as a community gathering place, rather than sacrificing this space for the sake of greater traffic speeds.  It also creates an additional intersection on Olympic Drive, which will help to slow traffic and reinforce the nature of Main and Second as local streets.

 

Underground Streets:  Placing streets underground may appear appealing as an opportunity to provide larger pedestrian spaces without interference from asphalt and automobile traffic.  However, as previously mentioned, integrated streets play an important role in livable, pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods by providing access for pedestrians, bicycles, autos and transit.  Streets that support several modes of travel will play an important role in activating the Civic Center and creating visibility for the area’s parks so that they feel safe and secure.

 

Underground streets create significant physical challenges.  Placing Main Street underground south of Olympic Drive cannot be accomplished due to two large storm drains that run under the street.  For Olympic Drive and Main Street / Second Street north of Olympic Drive, the greatest challenge is the large ramp areas that are required to get the streets underground.  Exhibit 8 shows examples of street grade separation projects.  It is estimated that 240-foot long ramps would be required to bring each street underground, with additional 240-foot ramps bringing the streets back to grade, as depicted in Exhibit 9.  The large ramp areas would create a difficult and unsightly condition, limit the continuity of the open spaces and the neighborhood, and force pedestrians to navigate around large fenced openings above the ramps.  In order to support bus stops, the underground streets would require large subway-like bus stop stations with elevators and escalators and associated stair towers and elevator landings along the streets and in the open spaces.  The cost of creating underground streets and underground bus stations would likely overshadow all other costs associated with development of the Civic Center plan.

 

Circulation Impacts on Public Safety and Transit: Representatives of the Police, Fire and the Big Blue Bus Departments reviewed the three circulation options discussed above and provided the following comments. 

Police: The Police Department expressed the greatest concern regarding underground streets, which could create nuisance conditions due to their seclusion and poor accessibility.  Similarly, the Police Department expressed concerns that an absence of adjacent streets would make the new parks more difficult to patrol by motor vehicle, therefore more secluded and a greater policing hazard.

Fire: In the interest of public safety and access to the Civic Center both for Fire and Emergency Medical Service response, the Fire Department found the concept of underground streets to be unacceptable and strongly recommended against its implementation.  The Fire Department was not concerned with the elimination of street traffic on the western portion of Olympic Drive, provided that this area was designed for fire vehicles only.  The Fire Department also commented that as part of implementation, median breaks on Main Street, emergency access in the Village area, and sufficient space for fire trucks around the Main Street Circle would need to be provided.

Big Blue Bus: Representatives of the Big Blue Bus expressed a preference for a more direct connection between Second and Main Streets, preferably with operational advantages for transit vehicles, which would enhance bus speeds along this route. 

 

Light Rail Station:  Exhibit 10 shows the option that was presented to the Working Group for providing a Downtown / Civic Center terminus to the Exposition Corridor Light Rail Line.  The proposed location at the southeast corner of Fourth Street and Colorado Avenue provides a central location to serve both the Civic Center and the eastern and western parts of the Downtown.  This terminus location is also within one block of the Downtown Transit Mall.  The site is large enough that it could include transit-serving parking, if desired.  The site could also include a mix of other uses, such as retail or residential, in addition to the transit station.  Metropolitan Transportation Authority representatives have reviewed the proposed site and found it to be an appropriate terminus site.

 

Summary:  As a result of the issues discussed above, staff recommends that Olympic Drive continue to Ocean Avenue, the streets stay at grade, and that the integrity of the parks and streets not be compromised by a continuous connection from Second Street to Main Street.

  

PARKING

The City Council directed staff to review options for providing additional parking in the Civic Center.  Three important considerations with respect to additional parking include the physical impacts of placing parking under parks, the need for additional parking in the Civic Center, and the circulation and neighborhood impacts of providing additional parking in the area.

 

Physical Impacts of Parking Under Open Space:  While the idea of placing parking under open space is conceptually appealing, there are several important physical considerations in pursuing such a strategy.  Exhibit 11 shows an example of some of the conditions associated with placing parking under open space.

 

An underlying substructure presents significant challenges for trees that grow large upon maturity.  Options for overcoming these limitations include avoiding the use of trees, planting trees in raised planters, or planting small varieties of trees.  While such an approach can be appropriate for an institutional or corporate setting, it would negatively impact the character of an open space such as the Palisades Garden Walk, which is envisioned as an extension and complement to Palisades Park and its   compelling landscape quality.

 

If the City Council chooses to include dedicated sports field space with limited trees in the Civic Auditorium area, adequate growth area for tree roots becomes less critical.  However, underground parking will require vehicular ramps to the parking, ventilation shafts, stair well enclosures, and elevator enclosures, all of which will serve to disrupt the open space qualities of this area.  An alternative opportunity for providing underground parking that minimizes these aesthetic impacts is placing parking under the Santa Monica High School Track and Field.  As the field is raised above Fourth Street, elevators, stairwells, ventilation, and access could be oriented toward Fourth Street, thereby minimizing impacts to the track space above.  In addition, the grade relative to Fourth Street would reduce the excavation and shoring required for the project, thereby decreasing the costs to build such parking by a factor of approximately 15 percent.  

 

Building parking under open space is extremely expensive.  While all underground parking is expensive, parking without structure above is particularly expensive as all structural and construction efficiencies are lost, and special waterproofing of the slab is required.  As a result, the cost of building parking under open space can be as much as twice the cost of parking under structure.  

 

Parking Needs:  The Working Group-recommended plan includes sufficient parking resources to meet the needs of the Civic Center.  However, the City Council asked staff to examine additional parking resources to meet the needs of other parts of the City, such as the Downtown, the Pier / Beach area, and Santa Monica High School.  The Downtown Parking Task Force has recently prepared recommendations for meeting long-term downtown parking needs that rely solely on the downtown area, with the exception of interim replacement parking in the Civic Center while the downtown structures undergo retrofit and reconstruction.  The results of the Coastal Circulation and Parking Study showed that there are sufficient parking resources in the beach area, and recent changes in prices have resulted in an improved utilization of all beach parking resources.  Empirical results from past summers when RAND opened its parking lot to beach-goers on weekends shows limited appeal to placing beach parking in the Civic Center.

 

Santa Monica High School, which has a limited amount of parking for its students and staff, could benefit from additional parking.  There is currently a lottery for students to gain on-campus parking spots.  Students who are not successful in the lottery but choose to drive to school often park in the adjacent neighborhoods.  Civic Auditorium staff reports that very few, if any, high school students regularly park in the Civic Auditorium public parking lot, indicating that students are unwilling to pay market prices for parking.  This leads to an assumption that providing parking that is usable for high school students would require heavily subsidized parking rates.  The City Council should consider the environmental and traffic impacts of subsidizing students to drive to school, rather than using environmentally superior modes such as walking, bicycling and transit.  If subsidizing student driving is considered to be important, placing parking under the Santa Monica High School track presents an alternative that is financially and aesthetically more feasible. 

 

Circulation and Neighborhood Impacts:  As the Civic Center is recommended to become a new neighborhood in Santa Monica, it is important to consider the neighborhood impacts that will occur if it becomes a heavy parking receptor.  One impact is that vehicular access in the neighborhood will become more difficult if large numbers of autos drive into the area to park.  Adding new parking that is accessed from Fourth Street will cause more traffic on Fourth Street through Ocean Park, and will negatively impact the Fourth Street intersections at Olympic and Civic Center Drives.  The livability of the neighborhood will also suffer if it becomes a depository for cars of people who leave the area for other destinations.

 

Summary:  As a result of the issues discussed above, staff recommends that parking to serve needs outside of the Civic Center not be provided in the Civic Center.

 

ADDITIONAL HOUSING

The City Council requested consideration of opportunities to increase the number of housing units that could be developed in the Civic Center beyond the 300 units contained in the Conceptual Plan.   This consideration includes increasing densities within the mixed-use Village area and increasing the footprint of housing north of the Village area.

 

Increased Densities:  The current densities included in the Conceptual Plan allow for residential buildings of four to eight stories (45 to 85 feet) in height in order to achieve 300 residential units in a livable environment.  Increasing the number of units within the same area will require increased heights and densities.  Exhibit 12 presents elevations of the heights and massing that will accommodate the proposed housing program of 300 units, as well as four additional height and massing options to accommodate increased programs of up to 600 housing units.

 

One of the important issues to consider with respect to height and density is compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood.  While the Downtown area and Ocean Avenue north of Colorado Avenue includes many taller buildings that reach as high as 21 stories, the tallest building in the Civic Center is the eight-story Pacific Shore Hotel.  The 16-story heights required to provide 450 or more units could be out of character with the area.  Alternatively, it could be argued that the new housing will be a critical component of the area development and it could thereby be responsible for defining a new character to the area.  Increased housing mass could also improve compatibility with the new RAND Headquarters, which will be perceived as a large building due to its parapet height of 80 feet above Ocean Avenue and façades of over 700 linear feet.

 

Shade and shadows is a critical consideration with respect to increased housing heights, particularly because this area is south of the Palisades Garden Walk and Town Square.  As building heights increase, the shading of the adjacent open spaces becomes more acute, particularly during the winter months.

 

Additional building height is also expected to increase project costs per unit, which means affordable housing funds will build fewer units.  Buildings above 85 feet are generally classified under the building code as high rises, resulting in additional requirements for fire sprinklers and emergency exiting that can increase construction costs by a factor of between 10 and 25 percent.  A greater number of units on the housing sites will also increase parking costs per unit, as the additional parking required to serve these added units will need to go deeper into the ground.  For each additional level of subterranean parking, there is an expected construction premium of as much as 50 percent per level.  

 

Reaching 600 units in the Village Area would require the family housing development on Site A to shift from a 35- to 45-foot height to an 85-foot height.  This change would eliminate the opportunity to provide the families with immediate access to outdoor areas, thereby reducing the livability of the units and their suitability for families.  In addition, moving from wood-frame construction to more expensive steel or concrete construction would increase the construction costs by approximately 15 percent.  Such a change in costs would make this project less competitive for family housing funds.      

 

Expanding the Housing Footprint:  The Working Group considered two alternatives for additional housing north of the Village area.  One alternative (see Exhibit 13) provided for a cluster of housing on approximately 2 acres.  While this alternative provides obvious benefits in terms of more housing and better activity and security for the Town Square, Palisades Garden Walk, and Ocean Avenue, the addition of housing compromises the Palisades Garden Walk, making it more of a connector park between Palisades Park and the Town Square instead of a unique community resource with strong linkages to Palisades Park.  The Working Group decided that the quality of this unique open space should not be sacrificed for more housing.

 

Another alternative (see Exhibit 14) reviewed by the Working Group included additional housing on approximately one acre north of the Village.  While this alternative does provide more open space than the alternative discussed above, it does not provide a significant increase in usable open space and isolates the housing from the other housing areas. Because this is a compromise solution that optimizes neither housing nor open space, this option was not recommended.  Other contemplated configurations for housing development with a small footprint in this area resulted in a similarly severe compromise of the usability of the Palisades Garden Walk.

 

The City Council also asked for analysis of a scenario whereby the western leg of Olympic Drive would be eliminated and replaced with housing.  However, as a fire access lane would need to be preserved on the north side of the Village housing, additional housing could not be constructed in this area.  In addition, Olympic Drive plays a critical role in activating the area, providing access and support for the Village housing, and creating public accessibility to the parks and a sense of privacy for the housing.  Furthermore, housing in this area would greatly reduce the pedestrian permeability through this area and block a key view corridor.  As currently designed, the upper plaza of the Public Safety Facility will have a view to the ocean.  This was a deliberate response to the significant view corridor that will exist adjacent to Olympic Drive.  Blocking the view corridor runs counter to the principles of the original plan and the Working Group.

 

Considerations Regarding Increased Housing: Under any scenario to increase the total number of housing units, an important consideration is the availability of funds for affordable housing.  Staff estimates that the City’s Housing Trust Fund, in combination with tax credits and other outside funding sources, could support the development of approximately 300 housing units in the period immediately following the construction of RAND’s new headquarters building.  Providing a greater number of subsidized units would likely require that the housing developments be phased over a longer time period.  

 

Another important consideration with respect to housing is quality and quantity.  While the proposed land use program supports a total housing development program of approximately 300 units, this is based on the assumption that there will be many two-, three- and even four-bedroom units targeted at families and other larger households.  Affordable family housing is one of the greatest needs in Santa Monica due to the limited supply of large units.  If providing larger units is a lower priority than the total number of new housing units, the sites identified in the Conceptual Plan could support many more housing units if they are developed as studios and one-bedroom units.  However, this would not address Santa Monica’s need for family housing and other larger housing types.

 

Summary:  If the City Council chooses to include a greater housing program in the Civic Center, staff recommends that the additional housing be located north of Olympic Drive on a full two-acre site, understanding that open space will be reduced significantly and program opportunities will be limited.  The Palisades Garden Walk will no longer be available for a botanical garden, arboretum, sculpture garden or other unique community resource and will instead relate to the adjacent housing.  If sports field space is added to the Civic Auditorium area and housing is added to the Palisades Garden Walk, the Town Square will remain as the only significant, informally programmed park in the Civic Center.

 

PHASING

The phasing concept developed as part of the community process anticipates that RAND will complete construction of its new facility and demolition of its existing facilities between 2005 and 2007 and that the Civic Center Parking Structure will be completed as early as 2004.   Based on these timelines and assuming that funding can be secured for all projects, the following phasing concept was developed. 

 

West of Main Street:  An immediate priority will be construction of the Second Street Bridge, as the operation of this bridge is necessary to initiate construction on the Town Square and the City Services Building.  After demolition of the RAND buildings, construction could begin on the housing developments, Town Square, City Services Building, Village Green, and Palisades Garden Walk. 

 

East Side of Main Street: For a period of approximately 6 to 8 years following its completion, the Civic Center Parking Structure will be used primarily for replacement parking while the downtown parking structures undergo seismic retrofit and reconstruction.  Earthquake Redevelopment Project Area funds will help pay for the structure’s construction due this initial earthquake-related use.  Completion of the City Services Building (as early as 2006) and its 300 underground parking spaces would free up enough space in the Civic Auditorium parking lot to enable construction of the early childhood education center.  Once the downtown parking seismic work is completed (as early as 2010), much of the parking in the Civic Auditorium lot could be shifted to the Civic Parking Structure, allowing for rehabilitation, expansion and addition of underground parking to the Civic Auditorium and development of the Civic Auditorium park.

   

Alternative Concepts:  If dedicated sports field space is included in the plan, the City Council asked for phasing options to develop the space as early as possible.  One option is to delay development of the Child Development Facility and instead move forward with development of a sports field in the Civic Auditorium Park.  However, as RAND is able to start drawing down their $500,000 contribution to the children’s facility once their new building is complete, such a delay will diminish the available funding for the facility.  In addition, as the facility is an important support service for the new families in the Civic Center, it is desirable for the opening of this facility to follow the opening of the housing as closely as possible.  Finally, developing a single playfield on the Civic Auditorium lot prior to constructing new parking under the Civic Auditorium will have negative implications for the finances, operations and programming of the Auditorium.

 

Another option is to temporarily shift the City, County, and Auditorium parking needs to the RAND parking lots, which would allow for construction of the sports field space to begin as early as 2005.  However, this would delay construction of the housing and parks on the former RAND property until at least 2010 and would negatively impact the operations and programming of the Auditorium.  Alternatively, parking could be constructed under Palisades Garden Walk following demolition of RAND to temporarily accommodate City, County, and Auditorium parking needs, which would allow for construction on the sports field space to begin as early as 2007.  However, as discussed previously, underground parking would severely compromise the character of the Palisades Garden Walk and would be extraordinarily expensive. 

 

Summary:  As a result of the issues discussed above, staff recommends that the current phasing concept be maintained.

 

NEXT STEPS

To assist the City Council in its deliberations, Exhibit 15 provides a summary of the key study issues.  Following City Council authorization, the Civic Center Working Group will facilitate the preparation of the written Draft Specific Plan over the next several months.  The Specific Plan will include property development standards (setbacks, stepbacks, building heights, etc.), circulation routes for pedestrians, bicycles, transit and vehicles, parking requirements, street sections, conservation and sustainability goals, and utility service requirements.  On a parallel track, staff and consultants will begin CEQA analysis in preparation for review and final adoption of the Specific Plan. 

 

BUDGET / FINANCIAL IMPACT

Conceptual approval of the Civic Center Land Use Plan will have no direct impact on the budget.  Funds for preparation of the Environmental Impact Report and finalization of the written Civic Center Specific Plan are available in Account No. 01266.555060.

 

RECOMMENDATION

It is recommended that the City Council:

1.      Review staff analysis of issues raised by the City Council on February 5, 2002;

2.      Provide full conceptual approval of the Civic Center Land Use Plan;

3.      Authorize the Civic Center Working Group and staff to begin preparation of the written Civic Center Specific Plan and related environmental review;

4.      Authorize the City Manager to negotiate and execute a contract amendment with the ROMA Design Group, in an amount not to exceed $250,000, for preparation of the environmental impact report and completion of the written Civic Center Specific Plan.

 

Prepared by: 

 

Planning and Community Development

Suzanne Frick, Director

            Andy Agle, Assistant Director

Community and Cultural Services

            Barbara Stinchfield, Director

            Karen Ginsberg, Assistant Director

            Carole Curtin, Event Facilities Manager

            Maria Luisa de Herrera, Cultural Affairs Manager

Resource Management

            Jeff Mathieu, Director

            Bob Moncrief, Housing and Redevelopment Manager

            Tad Read, Housing Coordinator

Environmental and Public Works Management

            Craig Perkins, Director

City Manager’s Office

            Judy Rambeau, Assistant to the City Manager for Community Relations

 

Exhibits:

  1. Civic Center Working Group Conceptual Plan
  2. Space Requirements for Two Sports Fields
  3. Plan with One Sports Field
  4. Plan with Theatre and Visual Arts Center
  5. Plan with Cultural Facilities and One Sports Field
  6. Olympic Drive Terminus at Second Street
  7. Direct Connection of Main and Second Streets
  8. Street Grade Separation Examples
  9. Plan with Street Grade Separation
  10. Light Rail Terminus Opportunity
  11. Example of Parking Under Open Space
  12. Housing Density Elevations
  13. Plan with Full Housing Development North of Village
  14. Plan with Partial Housing Development North of Village
  15. Summary of Key Study Issues
  16. Letter from Los Angeles Superior Court  (Not available electronically.  Available for review at the City Clerk’s Office, and at the City’s public libraries.)