Council Meeting: February 28, 2006                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Santa Monica, CA

 

 

TO:                  Mayor and City Council

 

FROM:            City Staff

 

SUBJECT:     Adoption of a Resolution Certifying  of the Downtown Parking Program Environmental Impact Report, Adoption of a Resolution Making Necessary CEQA Findings, Adoption of a Statement of Overriding Considerations and Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Program, and Approval of Program to Retrofit, Rebuild and Add Parking Resources in Downtown Santa Monica and Authorization to Proceed with Implementation of the Program

 

INTRODUCTION

This report recommends that the City Council certify the Downtown Parking Program Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and approve a Statement of Overriding Considerations for seismic retrofitting of two nine-story parking structures; tearing-down and rebuilding three five-story parking structures; and adding up to two new parking structures in the Downtown area, with a total net increase of 1,712 parking spaces and approximately 59,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space.  The report recommends that Council approve the Downtown Parking Program and authorize staff to proceed with implementation of seismic retrofit of Structures #4 and #2; acquisition and design of new perimeter parking resources; and a design development process focused on the three structures to be demolished and rebuilt.

 

BACKGROUND

On April 9, 2002, the City Council conceptually approved the Downtown Parking Task Force’s recommended strategic plan to retrofit, rebuild and add parking resources in the Downtown area over a ten-year period.  Council authorized staff to prepare a programmatic EIR, to analyze the potential for new revenue sources to fund the program and to proceed with next steps towards property acquisition or joint development options for new perimeter structures, predicated on the identification of funding.

 

On December 19, 2000, City Council established the Downtown Parking Task Force.   The task force was created in response to a Planning Commission suggestion for a public process to assess community sentiment concerning a recommendation in the “Downtown Parking Management Program” report by Kaku Associates, dated April 2000, for the need to add public parking in the downtown.  The Planning Commission also requested that cost and traffic impacts be assessed as part of the process.  The six-member Downtown Parking Task Force consisted of three City Council members, one Planning Commissioner and two Bayside District board members. 

 

As a parallel method to assess community sentiment, questions were added to the City’s annual public opinion telephone survey, conducted in November 2000, to provide input to the task force.  The results provided confirmation that the vast majority of residents regularly visit downtown (66% responded once-a-week and 91% responded at least once-a-month), use the parking resources and report difficultly in finding parking.  Almost two-thirds of the residents thought that the amount of parking in Downtown should be increased.  Parking continues to be ranked as one of the most important issues facing Santa Monica in recent resident surveys, although specific questions focused on Downtown have not been included.  In the 2005 survey parking ranked as the third most important issue facing Santa Monica, after the homeless and traffic and was considered a serious issue by 62% of residents. 

 

The task force developed a strategic and flexible approach to address the needs of the aging structures as well to add parking.  A considerable amount of effort was dedicated to determining whether and how much additional parking was needed.   A target parking ratio was developed through a comparison with cities that rely on shared parking and strong transit connections, including Portland, Oregon; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; and Alexandria, Virginia.  These cities exhibited parking ratios ranging from 1.5 to 2.2 spaces per 1,000 square feet of commercial development.   A ratio of 2.1 parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of commercial development was set as the goal for the Bayside area based on recent empirical data.  It was considered to be ambitious, considering the regional attraction of the Promenade, the high proportion of retail and entertainment uses, and Southern California’s dependence on driving.  

 

The strategy was framed within the context of a “Park Once -Pedestrian First” orientation to encourage visitors to drive as little as possible.  It was developed based on the premise that the existing structures are in the ideal location, so that the City should maximize the potential of these structures, while additional resources should be located within easy access to the core of downtown to expand the vitality of the core area.  The task force also recommended a dedicated user-friendly tram to facilitate the “Park Once” concept.  The proposed strategy recommendations encompass the following components:

 

  • Retrofit the tall structures:  The three tall structures (#2, 4 & 5) provide approximately 650 spaces each and would provide very little gain in spaces, if any, by tearing them down and rebuilding them. Therefore, even though the structures have deficiencies due to their age, they should be maintained and upgraded.  The work on Structure #5 is complete.  Ultimately, over a 20-year time span, the City may decide to rebuild these structures for functional reasons, but this would be a significant expense for no gain in the number of spaces.

 

  • Rebuild the short structures and add spaces:  The task force determined that the effective long-term strategy is to demolish the short structures (#1, 3 & 6), which average about 325 spaces per structure, and rebuild them with additional parking levels and ground floor retail, adding approximately 712 spaces.  Rebuilding, rather than retrofitting will address the underlying functional problems, including improved traffic/pedestrian circulation, handicap accessibility, ground-floor retail and high ongoing repair requirements. 

 

·          Additional parking on Downtown perimeter:  The task force concluded that since current parking resources are near capacity and incremental growth will continue in the downtown area, additional parking resources are needed.  It was determined that new parking resources should be located within walking distance of the core of Downtown to expand the vitality of the core area.  The task force identified the 5th Street vicinity as the ideal walkable distance. The task force recommendation calls for the construction of 1,000 spaces in two structures over a ten-year time span, one near the beginning of the ten-year period and one at the end of the ten years.

 

A detailed phasing plan was a critical component of the recommended strategy in order to avoid a net reduction in parking supply during construction.  Parking availability is important to the economic vitality of the downtown area and even a temporary reduction in available spaces would have a negative impact.  The phasing plan was dependent on two sources of replacement parking: the construction of the new Civic Center parking structure and the creation of new public parking resources in the vicinity of 5th Street.

 

The task force recommended that the program be assessed every two years in order to ensure that each succeeding component of the program is needed, based on updated development and utilization information, and that there is adequate revenue to fund the next phase. 

 

DISCUSSION

CEQA ANALYSIS:

A Program Environmental Impact Report (EIR) has been prepared in accordance with California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Guidelines.  The Initial Study/Neighborhood Impact Statement and Notice of Preparation (NOP) were distributed for agency and public review, with a public scoping meeting held on January 13, 2003 and the 30-day review period concluding on January 31, 2003.  Copies of the Draft Program EIR were made available for a 45-day public review period, which closed on October 18, 2005. 

 

The scope of the EIR includes environmental issues determined to be potentially significant by the Initial Study and responses to the NOP.   Issues in the Initial Study found to have less than significant impacts or no impacts do not require further evaluation.  Based on the analyses contained in the Initial Study/Neighborhood Impact Statement, the EIR analyzes the following environmental issues:

§         Transportation and Circulation

§         Air Quality

§         Noise and Vibration

§         Land Use and Planning

§         Aesthetics/Shadows

§         Construction Effects

§         Neighborhood Effects

 

The EIR analyzed issues referenced above and identified potentially significant environmental impacts, including program-specific and cumulative effects within the context setting, in accordance with the provisions set forth in the CEQA Guidelines.   The EIR recommends mitigation measures for significant impacts, 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 Aesthtics/Shadows and most Construction Effects.   A brief description of the impact and summary of the recommended mitigation measures for these mitigable impacts are provided in the Executive Summary of the EIR.  Significant and unavoidable impacts that cannot be mitigated are identified in the EIR as follows:

  • Transportation and Circulation – unmitigable significant traffic impacts to eleven intersections, including PCH / California Incline, Ocean Avenue / Colorado Avenue, 4th Street / Broadway, 4th Street / Colorado Avenue, 4th Street / I-10 Westbound off-ramp, 4th Street / I-10 Eastbound on-ramp, 5th Street / Colorado Avenue, Lincoln Boulevard / Wilshire Boulevard, Lincoln Boulevard / Santa Monica Boulevard, Lincoln Boulevard / Broadway, and Lincoln Boulevard / I-10 Westbound ramp; and immitigable significant traffic impact on the I-10 Freeway segment east of Cloverfield Boulevard.  More information on the traffic and circulation study is provided below. 

 

  • Air Quality – unmitigable significant air quality impacts related to NOx emissions from vehicle trips and the use of natural gas and electricity use in the parking structures and associated commercial development.

 

  • Construction Effects – unmitigable significant air quality impacts from construction related activities generating regional NOx and localized PM10 emissions.  There would also be secondary traffic impacts at the intersection of Fourth Street and Olympic Drive/I-10 eastbound on ramp and Fourth Street / Pico Boulevard due to replacement parking at the Civic Center structure during construction of Phases 3 and 4 of the Program.

 

  • Neighborhood Effects - unmitigable significant impacts identified in Transportation / Circulation and Construction Effects above.

 

 

Transportation and Circulation

The City’s standard methodology represents a conservative estimate of the traffic impacts for this project because the program is primarily intended to provide parking for development and traffic growth anticipated in the future.  By including an ambient growth factor on top of the cumulative base projects plus the projected trips due to the program, the impacts are essentially overstated.   For this reason, the EIR document included an alternative analysis of the cumulative base plus the project impacts without including an ambient growth factor. The other consideration not factored into the standard analysis is that availability and easy access to additional parking in the downtown could improve traffic flow.  However, the mitigation measures and conclusion of the analysis are based on the standard methodology. 

 

The transportation and circulation study for the project analyzed 33 intersections during weekday and weekend peak-hour conditions.  Currently, four of the intersections operate at unacceptable (Level of Service E or F) conditions during the weekday or weekend peak-hour.  The City’s standard methodology for generating future conditions without the project would have assumed a future year of 2012, however, the year 2015 was used for this analysis to anticipate the conclusion of the 10-year phased Program implementation.   Even without the project, 14 intersections are projected to operate at Level of Service E or F during the weekend or weak-day peak-hour in 2015 after factoring in the ambient yearly growth in traffic and the cumulative projects occurring in that time span.

 

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

  • PCH / California Incline
  • Ocean Avenue / California Avenue
  • Ocean Avenue / Colorado Avenue
  • Ocean Avenue / PCH Ramps
  • 4th Street / Broadway
  • 4th Street / Colorado Avenue
  • 4th Street / I-10 Westbound off-ramp
  • 4th Street / I-10 Eastbound on-ramp
  • 5th Street / Colorado Avenue
  • Lincoln Boulevard / Wilshire Boulevard
  • Lincoln Boulevard / Santa Monica Boulevard
  • Lincoln Boulevard / Broadway
  • Lincoln Boulevard / Colorado Avenue
  • Lincoln Boulevard / I-10 Westbound ramp

 

Mitigations measures identified for three of the intersections, Ocean Avenue / California, Ocean Avenue / PCH Ramps and Lincoln / Colorado Avenue, would reduce the impacts to less than significant levels.  The adverse environmental impacts identified at the other eleven intersections cannot be feasibly mitigated due to physical constraints that would require narrowing or eliminating sidewalks, compromising pedestrian crossing facilities or encroaching upon adjacent properties to implement mitigation.  These mitigation measures would themselves result in significant negative impacts.  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.  Eliminating crosswalks would lengthen pedestrian crossing times by reducing direct routes.  Encroachments on adjacent properties would involve removing parts of landscape areas or buildings, which would negatively effect the environment by removing adjacent green space that provides visual relief, by reducing private and public 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.  Four intersections, PCH / California Incline, 4th Street / I-10 westbound off-ramp, 4th Street / I-10 eastbound on-ramp and Lincoln Boulevard I-10 westbound ramp involve Caltrans ownership and implementation of mitigation is beyond the control of the City. 

 

A significant traffic impact on the I-10 Freeway segment east of Cloverfield Boulevard is also identified, but cannot be feasibly mitigated because the scope of the freeway improvements (widening) is beyond the control of the City.

 

Alternatives

Section 8 of the EIR analyzed eight alternatives to the proposed project that were selected for their potential to lessen significant environmental effects resulting from implementation of the proposed Program and/or to explore alternative locations and development scenarios.  The alternatives include:

 

·         Alternatives 1 and 2 represent no spaces added and, respectively, consist of a No Project Alternative (as required by CEQA) and a scenario that assumes retrofitting the existing structures, only. 

 

·         Alternates 3A and 3B present a reduced number of total spaces by adding only the new structures or only rebuilding the existing structures, respectively.

 

·         Alternative 4 analyzed the impacts of the full number of spaces, but locating the new structures slightly outside the area designated by the Downtown Parking Program.

 

·         Alternatives 5A, 5B and 5C analyze variations that include mixed use above ground and either more parking below ground, a reduced number of total spaces or additional spaces added in a perimeter location, respectively.

 

 

Alternative 3B is identified as the environmentally superior alternative because of the reduced intensity and partial fulfillment of the program objectives by providing an additional 712 net new spaces.  However, the alternative still results in significant and unmitigable traffic impacts at eight intersections, adds a new construction impact due to a lack of replacement parking, would create significant levels of NOx and PM10 during construction, and adds new Neighborhood Effects resulting from a long-term shortage of parking.  While Alternative 3B would reduce the Program impacts, this reduction is commensurate with a reduction in the achievement of the Program objectives.  Program objectives would be fulfilled in the short term, but the ability to meet on-going parking needs would be constrained.  The original Kaku study identified a near-term need for over 1,000 spaces and the subsequent Downtown Task Force assessment identified the longer-term objective at total net gain of 1,712 spaces.   Thus, Alternative 3B would result in a long-term deficit of 1,000 spaces.  Additionally, Alternative 3B would not expand the downtown walking district, a stated goal of the Program identified by the Downtown Parking Task Force as a tool for implementing a next phase of the Downtown Urban Design Plan.  In the long range, this alternative could adversely affect the downtown economic viability and vitality.

 

As detailed in Attachment C, the other alternatives either are not feasible, do not meet the program objectives or are not environmentally superior.

 

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 because the Downtown Parking Program will:

  • Support the downtown area as an economically viable district by maintaining a balanced approach of providing access to and within downtown, including an adequate supply of parking. 

 

  • Provide parking facilities in the downtown to maintain the current level of parking in proportion to commercial development.

 

  • Continue to facilitate the successful and innovative approach to parking based on a shared parking concept rather than tying parking requirements to each individual development.

 

  • Facilitate downtown circulation and accessibility by continuing to provide parking resources within a walkable distance from downtown uses.

 

  • Continue to expand the vitality of the downtown district in accordance with the goals developed in the Downtown Urban Design Plan.

 

  • Facilitate the continued availability and operation of the large number of spaces ideally located within the downtown area through seismic retrofit of the tall structures (#2 & #4.)

 

  • Improve utilization, efficiency and short-comings of the three 5-level (short) structures by improving accessibility, circulation and adding spaces.

 

  • Increase the activity at sidewalk level by including ground-floor commercial space in the new and rebuilt structures. 

 

  • Reduce ongoing and increasing capital replacement requirements by tearing down and rebuilding forty year-old parking structures.  Additionally, Incorporate environmental sustainability into the new and rebuilt structures.

 

 

Comments on EIR

A total of seven comment letters on the draft EIR received during the comment period are included in the Final EIR along with responses to the comments (Section 1 of the EIR.)   An eighth comment letter was received after the close of the comment period and is addressed here. 

 

The Bay City Women’s Club (Club) raised the issue that use of the Club’s surface parking lot directly north of Structure #1 was not adequately addressed in the EIR.  The Club stated that if the City’s recent interest in acquiring the site was for the purpose of expanding the existing parking structure, the EIR had failed to properly identify the scope of the project and assess the potential impacts on the historic Women’s Club Building.   While the City indeed made preliminary inquiries about the Club’s interest in selling the parking lot, the Club told the City that it was not interested.  Consequently, negotiations for the purchase of this site did not commence and no offer was made.  As such, the EIR’s analysis is appropriate.

 

 

PROGRAM IMPLEMENTATION:

Funding, Parking Fees and Parking Demand:

The conceptual Downtown Parking Plan adopted by Council in 2002 was estimated to cost $92 million, not including the cost of the recommended tram operation.  The original charge from the Council for the task force was to develop a program that would not require additional General Fund subsidy.  A central feature of the program, as proposed, was that people who benefit from the parking would pay for it.  The task force recommended moderate rate increases for all classes of parkers within the context of not driving business away from downtown.  They also recommended that the property owners contribute through assessments so that short-term visitors would not have to pay the true cost of parking.  The recommendation to increase metered rates in the downtown to $1/hour has been implemented, but monthly and short-term rates for those who park off-street have not been increased.   If the Council goes forward with the program, it should direct staff to prepare a funding plan, identifying any proposed fee increases or City subsidies.  

 

At the core of this project is the desire to create the right amount of parking for the downtown, i.e., enough so that downtown can continue to be an economic anchor and great place for recreation, but not so much that City streets are choked with vehicles.  For the purposes of the study, demand for parking in the downtown was assumed to be proportional to the square feet of development, at the same rates of parking per square foot of development that is observed today.  The downtown parking plan outlines a specific strategy that would allow the City to meet this demand if development proceeds at a rate approximating development over the past 10 years, roughly 50,000 square feet per year. 

 

The plan also recognizes a preference for the economic and recreational activity to occur in the downtown without as many cars.  The proposed program builds on the current model, which provides off street parking near but not on the site of each downtown destination.  It also builds on the current model of charging people who park.  If people who come to the downtown don’t value the parking enough to pay for it, that is a good sign the land could be better used for something else.   The plan includes not only a strategy to build for the parking demand that is expected, but also a mechanism to allow the program to be adjusted if future conditions change.  The key element is a biennial review of progress and parking occupancies.  This will allow the City to monitor conditions and make adjustments, either to the parking development program, to parking fees, or to other programs that affect people’s decisions how and when to come downtown. 

 

Parking Structure Phasing/Next Steps:

  • Seismic retrofit, painting and upgrade to frontages.  The design of Structure #4 will be underway this year and the implementation is anticipated to occur late 2006 or early 2007.  The upgrade of Structure #2 will follow shortly after Structure #4 is completed.  There is a coordinated plan to design and implement façade improvements.

 

  •  Staff is continuing to investigate opportunities to implement the proposed expansion of parking facilities in the perimeter area to ensure that adequate replacement parking is in place once the Civic Center parking structure is no longer available as replacement parking for the downtown.

 

  • Staff will develop an approach for the re-building of the three existing structures.

 

  • Staff in collaboration with the Finance Department, Redevelopment Agency, and the City’s financial advisors will develop a Downtown Parking Program funding plan in accordance with the City’s debt financing plan.

 

BUDGET / FINANCIAL IMPACT

Adoption of the Downtown Parking Program EIR will have no direct impact on the budget.  Each proposed Program implementation step will be reviewed by Council prior to action and will include an assessment of budget and financial impacts.

 

RECOMMENDATION

It is recommended that the City Council take the following actions associated with the environmental review of the Downtown Parking Program:

 

1)                 Adoptions of a Resolution Certifying the Final Program Environmental Impact Report.

 

2)                 Adoption of a Resolution Making Necessary CEQA findings, adopting a Statement of Overriding Considerations and Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Program.

 

3)                 Approve the Downtown Parking Program.

 

4)                 Authorize staff to proceed with next steps to implement the Downtown Parking Program, including the procurement of design services.

 

 

Prepared by:

            Andy Agle, Interim Director, Planning and Community Development Department

Ellen Gelbard, Deputy Director, Planning and Community Development Department

            Lucy Dyke, Transportation Planning Management

           

 

            Reviewed by:

            Jeff Mathieu, Director, Resource Management

            Miriam Mack, Manager, Economic Development Manager

            Tina Rodriguez, Manager, Redevelopment Administrator

            Craig Perkins, Director, Environmental and Public Works Management

            Tony Antich, City Engineer

            Steve Stark, Director, Finance Department

                       

 

 

Exhibits:

A - Final Program Environmental Impact Report Downtown Parking Program,

      January, 2006:  http://www.smgov.net/planning/eir/smdp/smdp-intro.htm

 

B -  Resolution Certifying the Final Environmental Impact Report

 

C -  Resolution Adopting a Statement of Overriding Considerations

 

C-1 Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Program