City Council Meeting: June 28, 2005                                                                                                          Santa Monica, California

 

TO:                  Mayor / City Council

 

FROM:            City Staff

 

SUBJECT:     Comprehensive Update to the Civic Center Specific Plan and Associated Appeal of the Planning Commission’s Action

Appellant: Darrell Clarke

 

INTRODUCTION

This report recommends that the City Council uphold the appeal of the Planning Commission’s action on the comprehensive update to the Civic Center Specific Plan; adopt resolutions to approve the comprehensive update to the Civic Center Specific Plan, certify the associated Environmental Impact Report, and adopt a statement of overriding considerations; and not adopt a resolution approving a discrete amendment of the Land Use and Circulation Element of the General Plan.  The Specific Plan provides a regulatory framework for future development of parks, open space, community facilities and housing in the Civic Center, but does not provide specific land-use entitlements for these projects.

 

BACKGROUND

In 1993, the City adopted the Civic Center Specific Plan (CCSP), which set forth a new vision for the Civic Center area.  The plan anticipated that a variety of public improvements in the area would be funded by private commercial and residential development on the RAND property.   Following adoption of the plan, RAND spent several years working with private developers to pursue implementation of the Specific Plan.

 

In April 2000, the revitalization of the Civic Center took a major step forward when the City’s Redevelopment Agency purchased 11.3 acres of the 15-acre RAND property. Later that year, the City Council approved a Development Agreement for construction of a new RAND Headquarters facility and demolition of the existing RAND facilities.  The RAND Headquarters is now complete and demolition of the existing facilities is underway.

 

Recognizing the unique opportunities associated with public ownership of a majority of the properties in the Civic Center area, the City embarked on an update to the Civic Center Specific Plan by establishing the Civic Center Working Group to guide the community planning process.  During 2001, the Working Group held a series of well-attended public meetings to develop a plan for the Civic Center.  The Working Group-recommended plan was reviewed by several boards and commissions prior to Council consideration and conceptual approval in 2002.  During that time, the City Council and Civic Center Working Group also considered a conceptual master plan for Santa Monica Place, and the draft Civic Center Specific Plan was prepared.

 

In 2003, the City began preparing the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) assessing the draft Civic Center Specific Plan and required related actions.  The draft EIR was released for public review during June and July 2004, comments were addressed and the Final EIR was completed in October 2004.  The Specific Plan, EIR and related actions were reviewed by the Civic Center Working Group on May 3, 2005 and by the Planning Commission on May 18, 2005.

 

PROPOSED CIVIC CENTER SPECIFIC PLAN

The Draft Civic Center Specific Plan is attached at Exhibit A.  The proposed CCSP establishes the planning policies and land use and development regulations for the 62 acres of land in the Downtown / Civic Center area, more than two-thirds of which are in public ownership.  The proposed CCSP builds upon the 1993 CCSP, as amended in 2000. It recommends revisions to the land use mix in the traditional Civic Center area, and also incorporates the Santa Monica Place shopping center property into the overall planning area.

 

The proposed CCSP sets forth a vision for the Civic Center that provides great potential to help meet Santa Monica’s open space, housing, cultural, civic and recreational needs. Under the plan, the Civic Center would retain its governmental and institutional role, but these uses will be integrated with new residential, recreational, civic and cultural activities to become a mixed-use district within the city. New linkages would strive to connect the area to the surrounding neighborhoods, and Main Street would become an integral part of the open space system and a more significant and central feature that unifies the area. In addition, the plan would allow the vibrancy of the Third Street Promenade to be connected to the Civic Center through Santa Monica Place and across the historic Main Street Bridge, which would become an exclusive pedestrian way.

 

Overall, the proposed CCSP would allow for the development of over 16 acres of parks and open space, mixed-use multifamily housing with ground-floor retail, public, community and civic facilities, office space, and associated street and parking improvements.  In comparison to the 1993 CCSP, overall development in the Civic Center area would be revised by reducing permitted commercial office facilities by 165,000 net square feet, reducing permitted governmental uses by 40,000 net square feet, reducing permitted community facilities by 9,500 net square feet, increasing permitted housing uses by 325 net residences, making no change in the amount of permitted retail uses, and increasing permitted parks and open space by 3.5 acres.

 

Open Space.  The Civic Center Open Space Plan encompasses parks and greens as well as promenades and streets. It emphasizes flexibility in design and encourages multiple and inclusive recreational uses. In addition, the proposed CCSP’s provision of new housing and community facilities in the Civic Center area is intended to add to the activity of people within the area throughout the day, and ultimately contribute to a sense of stewardship to help sustain the open space over time.

 

Three signature parks, comprising nearly 13 acres, would be provided in the Civic Center: the Town Square, Palisades Garden Walk, and the Civic Auditorium Park. The 2.5-acre Town Square in front of City Hall would form the central focus of recreational, civic, and social activities within the site. The four-acre Palisades Garden Walk would extend the bluff and arroyo landscape and pedestrian experience of Palisades Park into the Civic Center. Palisades Garden Walk provides an opportunity to create a unique open space experience, unlike any other in Santa Monica.  Ideas for space that were suggested during the community planning process include an arboretum, botanical garden, and art park. The Civic Auditorium Park would occupy 5.6 acres of land situated between an expanded Civic Auditorium and new Early Childhood Education Center and play area. This park would provide a gateway into the area from the nearby Ocean Park neighborhood on the south and east. The Civic Auditorium Park would include flexible recreational areas and a playfield suitable for organized and informal field sports, special events, festivals, and programmed activities associated with the Civic Auditorium. The playfield would be of a size suitable for competitive soccer and potentially include night-lighting.

 

In addition, greens, mews, courtyards and promenades would be provided throughout the Specific Plan area, with specific policies for these areas presented in the Draft CCSP. Within the open space system of the Civic Center area, there would be opportunities for public art, water elements and commemorative works. In addition, the principal corridors of Main Street, Second Street and Olympic Drive would be designed to allow for vehicular traffic within the roadway, but would take on a landscaped character, with canopy trees in planted parkways.

 

Circulation. A major element of the proposed CCSP is to promote and strengthen the center’s connectivity with the surrounding neighborhoods and environment, and to reduce the area’s historic isolation due to its topography, large size and single-purpose environment.  Page 17 of Exhibit A illustrates proposed linkages within the CCSP area.  The proposed CCSP provides for several transportation and circulation improvements, including additional streets, pathways and bikeways to provide access to specific facilities. The network of streets and pathways is also intended to break up the barrier-like nature of the Civic Center, extend and link public open spaces and activity centers within and adjacent to the area, and enhance access to and through the area for all modes. Two main vehicular circulation corridors are set forth in the Plan: the Main Street/Second Street Corridor, which provides improved vehicular, pedestrian and bicycle links between the Main Street commercial district on the south and downtown Santa Monica and the Third Street Promenade on the north; and the Olympic Drive corridor, which connects Fourth Street on the east with Ocean Avenue on the west.

 

The CCSP establishes street design standards for existing and planned streets within the CCSP area. These standards include the requirements for parkways, sidewalks, shade trees, continuous pedestrian-scaled lighting, benches and street furniture, transit shelters and coordinated signage

 

Development Policies.  The proposed CCSP includes policies requiring the design of buildings to provide spatial definition to public spaces, to introduce activities and treatments at the ground level that contribute to a visually interesting and public-spirited pedestrian environment and to complement historic structures.  The Plan area is divided into six special use districts.  These districts include:

·        The Auditorium Special Use District, which provides for the restoration of the landmark Civic Auditorium including up to 20,000 square feet of expansion for community, cultural and educational purposes; creation of an Early Child Development Center of up to 12,500 square feet, and creation of a new 5.6-acre park, including playfield, on the current site of the Civic parking lot.

 

·        The Civic Core Special Use District, which provides for the restoration of the landmark City Hall and courtyard and up to 100,000 square feet of additional space for city services, surrounding a 2.5-acre Town Square.

 

·        The Palisades Garden Walk District, which provides for a new four-acre park, complimented by park-oriented buildings and restaurant space, on the northern part of the former RAND site.

 

·        The Village District, which provides for up to 325 residences with ground-floor, neighborhood-serving retail uses, incorporating 0.7-acres of village green and mews on the southern part of the former RAND site.

 

·        The Santa Monica Place District, which provides for up to 85,000 square feet of office, 350 residences, and reconfiguration of retail space to create new pedestrian linkages to the Downtown and improved pedestrian-orientation.

 

·        The Colorado Avenue District, which encourages planning for future transit and better connectivity between the areas north and south of Colorado Avenue, but does not establish new development standards, deferring to the existing standards of the underlying zoning district.

 

Sustainability. The proposed CCSP includes sustainability policies related to transportation facilities and development within the area. These include maximizing alternative forms of transportation (include walking, bicycling, public transit and carpooling/vanpooling) and low-emission vehicles within the Civic Center. In addition, the proposed CCSP provides policies related to sustainable open space and streetscape design. These include creation of a generous canopy over the public spaces and streetscapes, and planting to improve the microclimate around buildings and provide cooling.

 

The proposed CCSP includes a policy for the proportion of permeable land area within the Civic Center area to be increased by over 200 percent to promote a reduction in urban runoff to Santa Monica Bay. The proposed CCSP also establishes policies related to “green” building design. These policies include provisions that new development within the Civic Center be consistent with the intent, goals and programs of the Sustainable City Program and employ practices set forth in the Green Building Design and Construction Guidelines, with a goal of achieving LEED Silver performance ratings for public buildings. The guidelines, which exceed the efficiency standards set forth in the State of California’s Title 24, include required and recommended “green” design and construction strategies related to the design of landscaping, building envelopes, interior space planning, and energy conservation through efficient state-of-the art technologies and designs. These include: the reduction in the amount of asphalt and other similar hardscape materials which contribute to the heat island effect; the pursuit of cost-effective, renewable, co-generative and less polluting energy sources such as photovoltaics and fuel cell technologies; and use water conservation measures.

 

PROPOSED ADJUSTMENTS TO THE DRAFT SPECIFIC PLAN

Potential amendments to the Draft Specific Plan have emerged as a result of Working Group or Council direction or information provided in the EIR.  Relevant issues are discussed below.

 

Second Street Alignment

The EIR identifies the large Moreton Bay Fig Tree on the former RAND property near the freeway embankment as a potential cultural resource.  The alignment of the Second Street Bridge as identified in the Draft Plan comes very close to the Fig Tree and could require relocation or removal of the tree.  In order to minimize environmental impacts to the cultural resource, the EIR recommends that the alignment of the Second Street Bridge be adjusted.

 

After examining the fig tree and its expected growth pattern, forestry staff and consultants established parameters to ensure the tree’s current health and future growth.  In order to accommodate the tree’s current and future needs, the alignment of the Second Street Bridge would need to move in an easterly direction.  As a result, maintaining the street system contemplated in the existing Draft Specific Plan whereby Second Street and Main Street connect via Olympic Drive would prove awkward and difficult.  Second Street could instead make a direct connection with Main Street via one intersection with Olympic Drive (see Exhibit C).  The proposed realignment provides a more intuitive circulation system, particularly for motorists traveling between the Main Street District and Downtown.

 

The proposed circulation adjustment has implications for the City Services Building, Town Square and Palisades Garden Walk sites. 

 

City Services: The portion of the City Services Building site west of Main Street would be eliminated by the bridge realignment.  A smaller building site would remain east of Second Street, with a potential maximum size of 40,000 square feet in three floors (see Exhibit C), rather than the 100,000 square foot building proposed in the Draft Civic Center Specific Plan. 

 

Open Space:  Realignment of the proposed Second Street extension also has implications for two of the key proposed open spaces, with an approximately one acre reduction in the size of the Town Square and a commensurate increase in the size of the Palisades Garden Walk.  The reduced Town Square could be conceived in a variety of ways once it is developed, including continuing to function as a visual “frame” for the landmark City Hall, accommodating open space activities and occasional ceremonies.  The space could also take form as a public plaza to unite the campus of public buildings and serve as a weekend site for special events such as farmers markets or community festivals.  The approximately one-acre increase in the Palisades Garden Walk would provide additional capacity for the unique open space experience that will take form on the site.   With elimination of the originally proposed street off-set around the Town Square, the Working Group recommended that the plan include a policy related to creation of a visual focal point at the northern end of Main Street.

 

East-West Bicycle Access

The Draft Specific Plan provides for Class I bicycle access (exclusive bikeways) from the Ocean / Colorado intersection, through the Palisades Garden Walk, Town Square, Courthouse Lawn and Civic Auditorium Park to the Fourth / Pico intersection.  The plan provides Class II bicycle access (on-street striped bikeways) in the north / south direction along Second and Main Streets and Class III bicycle access (on-street shared bikeways) in the east / west direction along Olympic Drive, Vicente Terrace and Civic Center Drive.  This network of bikeways is designed to provide complete bicycle access to all destinations within the Civic Center as well as connecting adjacent neighborhoods through the Civic Center.

 

The City Council and Working Group expressed a desire for a stronger bike connection to the signalized intersection (Fourth / Civic Center Drive) adjacent to the Santa Monica High School pedestrian / bicycle entrance.  Exhibits D and E illustrate a Class I exclusive bikeway leading from Main Street to Fourth Street along Civic Center Drive.  The Working Group also recommended that a policy be included in the plan to provide for bicycle access parallel to Olympic Drive in the Palisades Garden Walk area.

 

Olympic Drive View Corridor

The Draft Specific Plan includes a setback of 120 feet north of the centerline of Olympic Drive in order to create a view corridor from Fourth Street to Pacific Terrace.  The owner of the Ocean Lodge Hotel has indicated that the view corridor would conflict with his existing building.  Staff and consultants have reviewed this issue and confirmed that a setback of 80 feet is sufficient for the Fourth Street – Pacific Terrace view corridor (Exhibit F).

 

Village Special Use District

Following its conceptual approval of the Civic Center plan in April 2002, City Council again reviewed the Village District in December 2004 while considering a Request for Proposals (RFP) for development and design of the housing and open space.  Council elected to include general guidelines in the RFP to govern height and massing in the district rather than specific criteria, in order to encourage the greatest creativity by the eventual development designers.  Amended Specific Plan language is provided in Exhibit B to reflect the Council’s overall direction regarding minimizing heights generally and allowing greater heights only when public benefits are clearly articulated.

 

While the Council’s RFP criteria do not include a specific height limit, the Specific Plan must include a height limit because the Land Use Element and Zoning Ordinance both defer to the Civic Center Specific Plan for development standards.  The Working Group recommended that the Specific Plan include a maximum height of 56 feet generally within the Village District, with the allowed height at the southernmost portion of the site adjacent to the Viceroy Hotel reaching a maximum height of 84 feet.  Such height limits have been studied within the EIR and are within the limit that the Land Use Element originally established for the Civic Center Specific Plan area.  If different heights are deemed necessary to achieve the community’s goals for the Village District, a discrete amendment to the Plan could be considered as part of the approval of the Village development. 

 

The Draft Plan includes language setting a minimum acceptable number of 225 residences to be developed in the Village District.  This number was included in the Draft Plan to ensure that the eventual housing program achieved an intensity consistent with the community vision for the area.  The Civic Center Working Group expressed concern that 225 residences would not meet expectations for the site.  As a result, the Working Group recommended that the text be amended to reflect a requirement of providing 325 residences in the Village District.  The primarily challenge with creating a single number of residences as a minimum and maximum is that there may be conflicts between the desires for lower building heights, larger residences that are suitable for families and others, and reaching the full program of 325 residences.  As an alternative, the Plan could include language delineating the expectation for a program of 325 residences, without creating a firm requirement.

 

The Working Group also recommended that the Draft Plan’s policies encouraging affordable family housing and live-work housing suitable to artists be amended to become requirements.  Associated amendments are included in Exhibit B.

 

Colorado Avenue Special Use District

During the public planning process for the Civic Center area, one important goal was to create stronger pedestrian and activity linkages between the downtown and the Civic Center.  Properties along Colorado Avenue, including the Sears properties, were considered opportunity sites to enhance these linkages.  However, because the property owners did not participate in the planning process, the draft Specific Plan includes only general policies to be considered if development occurs on the sites.  No specific changes to these properties are proposed; consequently, the EIR did not study any changes at the sites.  The City Attorney’s Office has advised that the policies could be perceived to be prescriptive and that the language should be modified to explicitly reflect that the policies are goals to be encouraged, but are not requirements.  

 

Santa Monica Place Special Use District

In November 2001, the City Council voted to include the Santa Monica Place site as part of the Civic Center Specific Plan update.  In June 2002, the City Council, Civic Center Working Group and Promenade Uses Task Force reviewed options for the Santa Monica Place element of the Civic Center Specific Plan update and directed staff to proceed with environmental analysis of the general concepts and options.  In January 2005, Council considered a request by the Macerich Company to enter into negotiations for a Development Agreement for the Santa Monica Place site.  Council directed staff to work jointly with Macerich to facilitate a community planning process regarding the future of Santa Monica Place.  In recognition of the separate community planning process currently underway, the Working Group and Planning Commission recommended that the Santa Monica Place site be eliminated from the Civic Center Specific Plan.  Such action would alleviate the need for the discrete amendment of the Land Use Element discussed below.

 

Land Use Element Amendment

Within the Land Use Element, the Downtown Core is defined as the area bounded by Second Street, Wilshire Boulevard, Fifth Court and Colorado Avenue.  The Land Use Element references the Third Street Mall and Downtown Core Area Specific Plan as establishing additional policies for the area.  However, this specific plan, now known as the Bayside District Specific Plan, does not address the two blocks occupied by Santa Monica Place.  If the Council wishes to include the Santa Monica Place site within the Civic Center Specific Plan, a discrete amendment to the Land Use Element is recommended.  The proposed amendment is as follows:

 

1.3.6       Until a Third Street Mall and Downtown Core Area Specific Plan is Bayside District and Civic Center Specific Plans are adopted, allow in the Downtown area a maximum of:

 

Core Area:     4 stories (56’); 3.0 FAR

Frame:            4 stories (56’); 2.5 FAR

 

and permit by site development review up to:

 

            Core Area:     6 stories (84’); 3.5 FAR

            Frame:            6 stories (84’); 3.0 FAR

 

1.3.7   Once the Third Street Mall and Downtown Core Specific Plan is Bayside District and Civic Center Specific Plans are approved by the City, allow in the Downtown Core a maximum of 6 stories (84’) and 3.5 FAR if the development confirms to the land use and development standards required in the adopted Specific Plans.

 

PLANNING COMMISSION ACTION

The Planning Commission considered this item on May 18, 2005.  At that meeting, the Planning Commission recommended that the Santa Monica Place site be removed from the Specific Plan and that the associated Land Use Element Amendment not be adopted.  The Commission was unable to carry motions recommending certification of the EIR or adoption of the Specific Plan, as there were only four commissioners reviewing this matter and one was opposed.  Rather, the Commission carried a motion stating that they do not believe that the City’s approved traffic methodology appropriately captures traffic conditions and effects, and that more comprehensive traffic flow and management systems should be considered, including broader mitigation measures such as tram and shuttle services, bus lanes, truck routes, one-way streets and pedestrian-only areas.  The Commission also recommended that the City Services Building be compatible with City Hall in terms of height and building terracing, that decking over the freeway be pursued, that incidental food uses be allowed on the south side of Olympic Drive and that consideration be given to using an archway to create the desired visual element at the north end of Main Street.

 

APPEAL

As the Planning Commission was unable to carry forward an affirmative recommendation to the City Council to adopt the Civic Center Specific Plan, the matter had to be appealed.  On June 1, 2005, Darrell Clarke, Vice-Chair of the Planning Commission, appealed the Planning Commission’s action.  Mr. Clarke’s appeal statement is included as Exhibit K.  The appeal statement explains that only four Commissioners were present and able to vote on the item.  While three of the four members favored approval, an affirmative recommendation required four votes.  Recognizing that the Specific Plan was developed for a critical part of Santa Monica following an extensive, multi-year community planning process, the appellant states that the item should proceed to the City Council for adoption.

 

Staff concurs with the appellant’s statement and recommends that the City Council uphold the appeal, adopt the Specific Plan and take related actions.  A primary reason that certain members of the Planning Commission did not recommend adoption of the Specific Plan lies with commissioners’ personal experiences of traffic conditions and disagreement with the City’s approved traffic methodology.  By way of background, the City employs an extremely sensitive and conservative traffic methodology.  The base-year traffic operating conditions in the City’s traffic model are developed based on empirical traffic counts collected at each intersection.

 

The City’s practice for traffic studies is to use traffic count and forecast data from the City’s Traffix database as the basis for the study, to which project traffic is then added and evaluated.  At present, the Fall 2002 weekday traffic count dataset and Summer 2003 weekend traffic count dataset in the Traffix database is the most recent available dataset, and has been used for this EIR, as well as studies for other recent projects in Santa Monica.  The traffic study forecasts future conditions to the year 2012 by adding background traffic growth at 0.8 percent per year compounded (from 2002 on), plus cumulative traffic generated by specific proposed and approved related projects, including development that has been completed between 2002 and the present.  The 0.8 percent per year background growth is conservative, particularly because it is in addition to traffic from proposed and approved related projects.  By comparison, overall traffic growth in Santa Monica between 1992 and 2002 was at a rate of 0.5 percent annually, including both ambient growth and future projects. 

 

The project traffic study, as well as other EIR traffic studies prepared for the City, rely on determining a “level of service” for intersections.  The peak-hour levels of service are estimated using the “Operational Analysis” methodology from the Highway Capacity Manual (HCM), in accordance with City guidelines.  The HCM is a nationally accepted document published by the Transportation Research Board.  Using this methodology, the level of service is determined and reported for the intersection as a whole based on the average vehicular delay for all vehicles at the intersection.  This methodology calculates average delay and volume-to-capacity ratio based on the amount of traffic traveling through the intersection, travel lane geometries, signal phasing, and other factors affecting capacity such as on-street parking, bus operations near the intersection, and pedestrian volumes at the street crosswalks.  While delays longer and shorter than the average condition for the intersection as a whole can be experienced by motorists on certain movements and during specific times within the peak hour, the methodology reflects the overall conditions and delays that would be experienced by the average motorist.

 

In this way, the City’s traffic analysis presents a sensitive, conservative, comprehensive and reasonable forecast of future traffic conditions.

 

CEQA ANALYSIS

An Environmental Impact Report (EIR) has been prepared for the proposed project in accordance with Section 15087 of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Guidelines.  Two Notices of Preparation (NOP) were filed with the California Office of Planning and Research and distributed to involved public agencies and interested parties for 30-day public review periods that concluded on February 18, 2003 and May 10, 2004.  Public scoping meetings were held on January 21, 2003 and April 15, 2004. Copies of the Draft EIR were made available for a 45-day public review period, which closed on July 22, 2004.  A total of 13 comment letters on the draft EIR were received.  These comment letters, as well as the response to comments, are included in the Final EIR (Section 4.0).  Details of the significant impacts are discussed below.

 

The EIR addresses the potential environmental effects of the proposed project.  The scope of the EIR includes environmental issues determined to be potentially significant by the Initial Study, NOP and responses to the NOP.  The environmental analysis, particularly in the traffic and circulation section, categorizes buildout of the project into four major geographical components in order to associate specific mitigation measures, such as signal improvements, with specific development projects. 

    

The environmental study determined that the proposed project would have minimal or no impacts for the following five environmental categories: Biological Resources, Mineral Resources, Economic and Social Impacts, Recreation and Agriculture Resources. Because potential effects in these impact areas were found not to be significant, further analysis of these impacts were not required or provided in the EIR.

             

The NOP identified potentially significant effects in the following impact areas associated with the construction or operation of the proposed project, which are addressed in detail in the EIR:

            Aesthetics and Shadow Effects      Air Quality

            Construction Effects                         Cultural Resources

            Geology and Soils                            Hazards and Hazardous Materials

            Hydrology and Water Quality           Land Use and Planning

            Noise                                                  Population and Housing

            Public Services                                 Shadows

            Transportation and Circulation        Utilities

            Neighborhood Effects

 

The EIR analyzed the issues referenced above and identified potentially significant environmental impacts, including site-specific and cumulative effects of the project in accordance with the provisions set forth in the CEQA Guidelines.  The EIR also recommends mitigation measures, where feasible.  To be feasible, the mitigation measure must eliminate or reduce the adverse effect, without creating unacceptable secondary impacts.  Significant and mitigable impacts were found in the areas of Aesthetics, Construction Effects, Cultural Resources, Geology and Soils, Hazards and Hazardous Materials, Hydrology and Water Quality, Land Use and Planning, Noise, Transportation and Circulation, Utilities and Neighborhood Effects.  A brief description of the impact and summary of the recommended mitigation measure for these mitigable impacts is provided in the Executive Summary of the EIR.

 

As discussed below, significant and unavoidable impacts that cannot be mitigated are identified in the EIR as follows:

  • Cultural Resources – immitigable, significant impacts to cultural resources if a large Moreton Bay Fig adjacent to the Santa Monica Freeway on the former RAND property is removed or unsuccessfully relocated; the staff report includes a recommended adjustment to the alignment of the proposed Second Street Bridge to ensure that removal or relocation of the tree is not required;

 

  • Traffic/Circulation – immitigable significant traffic impacts to nine intersections, including PCH / California Incline, Ocean Avenue / Colorado Avenue , Fourth Street / Broadway, Fourth Street / Colorado Avenue, Fourth Street / I-10 Off-ramp, Fourth Street / I-10 On-ramp, Lincoln Boulevard / I-10 Off-ramp, Lincoln Boulevard / Pico Boulevard, and Fifth Street / Colorado Avenue; immitigable significant traffic impacts at one CMP arterial monitoring intersection, Lincoln Boulevard / Pico Boulevard; immitigable significant neighborhood traffic impacts on Fourth Street between Pico Boulevard and Ocean Park Boulevard and between Ocean Park Boulevard and the southern City limits; more information on the traffic and circulation study is provided below;

 

  • Air Quality - immitigable, significant air quality impacts related to ROG, NOx and CO emissions from vehicle trips, natural gas use, and landscape maintenance equipment;

 

  • Construction Effects – immitigable significant impacts to air quality from NOx emissions during demolition and construction and ROC emissions during application of architectural coatings; and

 

  • Neighborhood Effects – immitigable significant impacts identified above related to Air Quality, Construction Effects and Transportation and Circulation.    

 

 

Transportation and Circulation

The transportation and circulation study for the project analyzed 48 intersections during weekday and weekend peak-hour conditions.  In addition, five neighborhood traffic segments were analyzed.  Six of the intersections currently operate at unacceptable conditions during the weekday or weekend peak-hour.  As a result of overall regional growth and approved or planned development projects, 13 of the study intersections are projected to operate at unacceptable conditions during the weekday or weekend peak-hour in future year 2012.

 

The transportation analysis examined significant impacts related to Levels of Service (LOS) and volume/capacity ratios from the project.  Significant impacts are projected to occur at thirteen of the 48 study intersections:

  • Pacific Coast Highway / California Incline,
  • Ocean Avenue / Colorado Avenue,
  • Ocean Avenue / Pico Boulevard,
  • 4th Street / Broadway,
  • 4th Street / Colorado Avenue,
  • 4th Street / I-10 Off-ramp,
  • 4th Street / I-10 On-ramp,
  • 5th Street / Colorado Avenue,
  • Lincoln Boulevard / Santa Monica Boulevard,
  • Lincoln Boulevard / Colorado Avenue,
  • Lincoln Boulevard / I-10 Off-ramp,
  • Lincoln Boulevard / Pico Boulevard, and
  • Lincoln Boulevard / Ocean Park Boulevard. 

 

Mitigation measures identified for four of the intersections, Ocean Avenue / Pico Boulevard, Lincoln Boulevard / Santa Monica Boulevard, Lincoln Boulevard / Colorado Avenue, and Lincoln Boulevard / Ocean Park Boulevard, would reduce the significant impacts to less than significant levels.  However, the adverse traffic-related environmental impacts identified at the other nine intersections cannot be feasibly mitigated as physical constraints would require narrowing or eliminating sidewalks or crosswalks, reducing bus stops and pedestrian-crossing waiting areas, or encroaching upon adjacent properties to implement mitigation.  These mitigation measures would themselves result in significant negative impacts to the area and impact the neighborhood context.  Narrowing sidewalk widths or eliminating sidewalks adversely affects the pedestrian environment by reducing the walking area for pedestrians and potentially forcing pedestrians into the street.  Encroachments on adjacent properties would involve removing parts of parks, landscaped areas or buildings, which would negatively affect the environment by removing adjacent green space that provides shading and visual relief, by reducing public and private facilities’ ability to provide services to customers and the public, and by reducing the interest and variety of the pedestrian experience.  Mitigation through widening of City streets to accommodate additional vehicle trips is contrary to City policy where the preservation of neighborhoods and the pedestrian environment is highly valued.  In addition, four of the intersections, Pacific Coast Highway / California Incline, 4th Street / I-10 Off-ramp, 4th Street / I-10 On-ramp, and Lincoln Boulevard / I-10 Off-ramp are owned by Caltrans and implementation of mitigation measures is beyond the control of the City.

 

Neighborhood traffic impacts are identified in the EIR for Fourth Street between Pico Boulevard and the southern City limits.  As neighborhood traffic measures have been implemented already on Fourth Street, additional mitigation measures are unavailable.

 

It should be noted that certification of the EIR does not grant any land-use entitlements.

 

Alternatives

Section 6 of the EIR analyzes four alternatives to the proposed project, including a “no project” alternative (no change to existing land uses), build-out of the existing Civic Center Specific Plan, an increased density alternative and a reduce density alternative.  The reduced density alternative is considered to be the environmentally superior alternative; however, significant and immitigable impacts are expected related to Traffic and Circulation, Air Quality, Construction Effects and Neighborhood Effects, as under the proposed project. The alternative is considered to be infeasible as it would not meet the project goals of providing a significant program of much-needed housing in Santa Monica.

 

Project Adjustments

The Specific Plan adjustments recommended in this report would reduce environmental impacts, without creating new impacts.  Specifically, relocation of the Second Street Bridge would reduce the significant impact related to Cultural Resources by eliminating the potential need to relocate or remove the valuable Moreton Bay Fig.  Reconfiguration of the Main Street / Second Street corridor results in equivalent or improved circulation due to more direct automobile circulation between the two streets, connected at a single signalized intersection.  In addition, creation of additional bikeway access would enhance transportation options.  Reduction in the size of the City Services Building would reduce the number of auto trips associated with the use and thereby reduce impacts related to Transportation and Circulation.  No other environmental changes are expected as a result of the recommended project adjustments.   

 

STATEMENT OF OVERRIDING CONSIDERATIONS

In order to approve the project, the City Council must certify the EIR and adopt a statement of overriding considerations.  A statement of overriding considerations is a finding by the City Council that the benefits of a proposed project outweigh the unavoidable adverse environmental impacts.  Staff recommends that a statement of overriding considerations is warranted for the following reasons:

 

·        The Civic Center Specific Plan will provide needed new open space, recreation, housing, civic and community resources within Santa Monica, which were identified as important elements for the plan through an extensive community planning process.

 

·        Under the proposed plan, the Civic Center will be transformed from a relatively isolated, governmental and institutional district into a community-oriented neighborhood with a strong sense of place that serves the entire Santa Monica community.

 

·        Over sixteen acres of open space will be created under the plan, meeting a diversity of community recreational needs, ranging from active playfields to flexible greenscapes to community gathering spaces.

 

·        Several transportation and circulation improvements are included in the CCSP, including additional streets, pathways and bikeways to improve access to specific facilities within the area, to link the area with adjacent areas and to enhance access through and to the area.

 

·        Important community needs will be addressed by the CCSP, including creation of an early childhood development center to serve the needs of Santa Monica families, as well as a small expansion of the Civic Auditorium for community, cultural and educational purposes.

 

·        The proposed CCSP provides for restoration of the landmark City Hall and courtyard, as well as additional space for consolidation of local public services to meet Santa Monica’s needs.

 

·        Critical housing needs in Santa Monica, including affordable family housing, live-work housing suitable for artists and low-income housing generally will be provided under the proposed CCSP.

 

·        The predominant new uses associated with the CCSP are housing and open space, which are generally lower peak-hour traffic generators in comparison to commercial uses.

 

·        The housing proposed for the Civic Center will be located in an area where requirements to make auto trips will be reduced due to walking and bicycling proximity to job centers, shopping, dining, services, parks and recreation, and a concentration of local and regional bus lines.

 

·        The Civic Center’s housing variety, including housing suitable for families, seniors and artists, as well as Santa Monica’s historical attraction to arts and entertainment workers who often work from home or employ non-traditional schedules, is also expected to reduce peak-hour auto trips.  When trips do require auto use, the new residences will be located within two blocks of freeway on-ramps, limiting the need to traverse local streets to reach regional destinations.

 

·        The proposed plan provides for new residences in Santa Monica and the Westside Region, where there is an undersupply of housing relative to jobs and other destinations.  New housing in this jobs-rich and destination-rich area provides reduced environmental impacts relative to new housing built in the exurban areas of the Southern California region, with the accompanying environmental impacts such as air quality degradation and traffic congestion from long auto commutes to jobs and water quality and biodiversity effects from development of natural lands.

 

·        The new housing also provides an opportunity to address housing affordability generally within the most expensive housing market in the region and in a city whose population has been largely unchanged over the past 25 years, and in particular providing new housing resources that are specifically targeted to lower-income households.

 

·        With its focus on housing and open space, the project provides an ideal location for housing that can reduce the need for auto trips and the associated air quality impacts.

 

·        The plan promotes environmental sustainability in many ways in order to reduce environmental impacts within the area. As new, environmentally friendly technologies related to residential heating and landscape maintenance continue to be developed and deployed, it is expected that the associated air quality impacts identified in the EIR will be reduced.

 

·        While the significant impacts during demolition, construction and application of architectural coatings are significant, they are expected to be temporary in nature and limited to the period of construction.

 

BUDGET / FINANCIAL IMPACT

Adoption of the Civic Center Specific Plan will have no direct impact on the budget.  In the long run, capital and operating funds will be necessary for implementation of the parks and community facilities.

 

RECOMMENDATION  

It is recommended that the City Council uphold the appeal by taking the following actions associated with the Civic Center Specific Plan:

1.      Certify the Environmental Impact Report;

2.      Approve a Statement of Overriding Considerations;

3.      Adopt the comprehensive update to the Civic Center Specific Plan, as amended; and

 

4.      Do not adopt a discrete amendment of the Land Use Element of the General Plan.

 

 

Prepared by:

            Gordon R. Anderson, Assistant City Manager

 

            Barbara Stinchfield, Director, Community and Cultural Services

            Karen Ginsberg, Assistant Director, Community and Cultural Services

 

            Craig Perkins, Director, Environmental and Public Works Management

 

            Jeff Mathieu, Director, Resource Management

            Ron Barefield, Acting Housing and Redevelopment Manager

 

            Andy Agle, Interim Director, Planning and Community Development

            Paul Foley, Senior Planner 

Exhibits:

  1. Draft Civic Center Specific Plan, November 2002:  http://www.smgov.net/planning/CCSP-Draft.html
  2. Proposed Amendments to the Draft Specific Plan
  3. Second Street Realignment with Reduced City Service Building
  4. Bicycle Access Alternative: Civic Center Drive
  5. Alternative Bicycle and Pedestrian Pathways Plan
  6. Alternative View Corridor Diagram: Palisades Garden Walk District
  7. Resolution Certifying the Final Environmental Impact Report
  8. Resolution Adopting a Statement of Overriding Considerations
  9. Resolution Adopting the Civic Center Specific Plan
  10. Resolution Adopting an Amendment of the Land Use Element
  11. Appeal Statement  (not available electronically – available at City Clerk’s Office and public libraries)
  12. Final Environmental Impact Report, October 2004:  http://www.smgov.net/planning/CivicFEIR.html