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City Council Report


City Council Meeting: October 12, 2010

Agenda Item: 8-A

To:               Mayor and City Council

From:           Susan Cline, Acting Director of Public Works

Subject:        Concept Design for the Palisades Garden Walk & Town Square Project


Recommended Action

Staff recommends that the City Council:

1.     Review and provide input on the proposed design concepts for the Palisades Garden Walk and Town Square Project.

2.     Approve the recommended design direction.

3.     Direct staff to move forward with Schematic Design.


Executive Summary

On June 22, 2010, Council approved a community engagement strategy for the design of the Palisades Garden Walk and Town Square Project and directed staff to proceed with its implementation according to the timeline set forth in the report.  Staff and the City’s design consultant James Corner Field Operations held the first community workshop on July 24, 2010 with over 200 community members participating in an active hands-on process to envision the important elements of the park.  From the emerging community vision, staff and the consultant team established programmatic recommendations that were incorporated into three conceptual design options. 


The three conceptual design options were brought back to the community at a workshop on September 19, 2010, jointly convened by the Recreation and Parks Commission and the Planning Commission for review and input.  Based on the discussions and survey results received from the Commissions and the community, staff recommends that Council provide input and approve the recommended general conceptual direction for the design of the park and direct staff to proceed with Schematic Design and the additional community review activities included in the project’s approved community engagement plan. 



On June 28, 2005, Council adopted an update to the 1993 Civic Center Specific Plan (CCSP), including creating Palisades Garden Walk, a new six-acre park north of Olympic Drive, west of Main Street, south of the Interstate-10 Freeway, and east of Ocean Avenue, with an additional one-acre Town Square in front of City Hall that is oriented to civic and community activities.


On April 13, 2010, Council awarded a design contract to James Corner Field Operations.  A key factor in the selection of James Corner Field Operations was their commitment to engaging the public in the planning and design of public open spaces and their creative design approach.  On June 22, 2010, Council approved a community engagement strategy to ensure the park design reflects the diverse interests and perspectives of the Santa Monica community.  Improvements to the surrounding streetscapes and freeway capping are an integral part of the CCSP.  Planning and Community Development is working with the project team to coordinate design efforts for the adjacent streetscapes and provide a pedestrian entrance at Ocean and Colorado Avenues to improve the pedestrian connections to the new park.  The new pedestrian access includes a widened sidewalk over the freeway, for which the required Caltrans review process is underway.


Community Engagement Strategy

This multi-pronged strategy uses electronic communication, stakeholder group liaisons, educational activities for youth, joint meetings of the Recreation and Parks Commission and the Planning Commission, visits to other advisory groups and regulatory commissions at key intervals, and multiple community workshops.


A project website ( was launched to provide an online platform for information sharing between the project team and the community.  The website contains project updates and news, project team and contact information, a photo gallery, online surveys, reports related to the project, and information on the overall Civic Center Specific Plan.


Since June 2010, staff has made 23 appearances at various business, neighborhood, and special interest groups within the city to bring attention to the project and provide opportunities for additional public input.  Presentations were made to these community stakeholders that explained the location of the project, introduced the design consultant to the community, and highlighted the schedule of upcoming public engagement opportunities.  These appearances are critical to the success of the community engagement strategy because liaisons from these stakeholder groups will serve as important communication links between the evolving project and this wide range of community groups, ensuring that project information and updates are communicated throughout the community.


In addition to the community engagement strategy, James Corner Field Operations has met with staff from Public Works, Community and Cultural Services, Planning and Community Development, and the Office of Sustainability and the Environment to share ideas and ensure proper coordination between the new park and other adjacent Civic Center projects that are moving forward.




The community responded to the survey by submitting 435 responses either electronically or via paper collection at the outreach event.  The responses were graphed to show the popularity of some choices over others.  The summary found that most respondents would describe Santa Monica as:

·       Committed to being green and sustainable

·       Diverse and inclusive

·       Vibrant and active

·       A close community within a large scale urban context

·       A beautiful place with significant contextual assets that include the beach and the Santa Monica Mountains


The survey results were an important basis for the consultant in developing the design concepts.



Community Workshops

On July 24, 2010, the first of four community workshops occurred at the site of the Palisades Garden Walk and Town Square.  Over 200 community members attended and participated in a number of activities designed to elicit thoughts, creative ideas, and suggestions on what their favorite existing features are on the site and what they would like to see with the newly designed spaces.  The workshop was well received by the community.  The design consultant, James Corner Field Operations, has prepared a report titled Concept Design Community Outreach Summary Report that summarizes the information gathered at this community workshop as well as the survey results.  This report is available online at Report.pdf.


The second community workshop on September 19, 2010 was attended by approximately 120 community members.  This workshop also served as a joint meeting of the Recreation and Parks Commission and the Planning Commission.  At this workshop, James Corner Field Operations summarized the results of the community input that had been received to date and presented three design concepts for the park.  Following the presentation, all workshop participants were invited to break up into smaller discussion groups to look closer at the options and provide input on each scheme.  Questions asked of the participants included:

·       What most excites you about each concept?

·       Do you have any concerns about the design?

·       What other ideas do you have?


At the end of the small group discussions, a representative from each group presented a verbal summary of the group’s main thoughts to the workshop participants.  Participants were also given an opportunity to complete a written survey.  The presentation and survey are available on the project website.  The workshop concluded with comments from both the Recreation and Parks Commission and the Planning Commission.


Overview of Presented Concept Schemes


Concept 1 – “The Arroyo Wash”



The “Wash” scheme is represented by a variety of fluid pathways and hills that appear to organically emerge from the entrance of City Hall, extending outward toward the City, Pier, and beach.  The linear topography of the scheme is striated with a diversity of pathway widths for different potential uses, contrasting with newly created “hills” and overlooks with a maximum height of 15 feet.  Water elements appear to originate in the Town Square and extend into the serpentine, flowing topography of Palisades Garden Walk.  A large open space for events is placed near the center of the park site with the “Three Amigos,” which are the three large ficus trees currently in the proposed location of the Olympic Drive extension toward Ocean Avenue, marking the center.  Three forest types are grouped over the site: acacias, native oaks, and umbrella pines.  Along with the relocated existing ficus trees, these trees create different tree canopies for a variety of shade experiences.  Morty” (the large Moreton Bay fig tree) is preserved in place within a picnic grove.  The Town Square and Park are linked by an overhead cable trellis consisting of lighting and vines which, as proposed, could extend from the front of City Hall across Main Street and through Palisades Garden Walk to the Ocean Avenue edge.  A “tavern on the green”-type dining facility is incorporated.


Concept 2 – d “The Arroyo Ravine”



The “Ravine” scheme is primarily a wide pathway between two powerful landform “hills,” narrow at the entrance on Ocean Avenue and Colorado Boulevard and widening to a plaza on Main Street.  Each hill is a long ramped landscape leading to an overlook with one oriented toward City Hall and the other toward the Pier and beach at a maximum height of 20 feet.  This scheme features a stony landscape made up of stepped gabion walls (cages filled with densely packed stones) with an amphitheater-like space that accommodates built-in seating and terraced planting.  The proposed landscape is two-sided with north and south facing slopes represented by different plant species with a water element that will channel stormwater.  This scheme features planted walls, terraces, grasses, various Mediterranean plant specimens, and native species.  In this scheme, the Three Amigos are relocated to the center of the park.  A plaza connection to a “tavern on the green” is indicated with a large exterior dining court shown.  A generous grove of trees bracket the Town Square, defining its north and south edges with seating on either side while maintaining an open view to the façade of City Hall and reflecting a similar gathering space mirrored across the street in the park. 


Concept 3 – “The Arroyo Dune”



The “Dune” scheme is an animated and playful arrangement of earthwork forms and garden areas described as “rambles and niches.”  The pathways are programmed for seating, strolling, and people-watching while landscaped areas are confined to the specific puzzle pieces of varied topographic forms and overlooks of a maximum height of 15 feet and contain multiple plant species.  Numerous canopy shade trees are distributed uniformly across the site.  This is the shadiest of the three schemes and provides most potential for more intimate gathering.  The Three Amigos are relocated toward the Olympic Drive edge of the park, commanding a prominent location opposite the Village.  The edges of the park are designed to respond to different conditions and welcome visitors in a number of different ways and in multiple locations giving the park a permeable character.  The scheme represents a park without a specific “center” and rather a number of different centers that provide a variety of spatial and horticultural experiences within the landscaped shapes.


Community Responses to the Design Concept Options

Following the breakout discussions at the September 19, 2010 workshop, the community and the Commissions joined together to verbally share the conclusions from each discussion group.  The general consensus of the community members attending the workshop was that together the “Wash” and the “Dune” organizational schemes held the most interest, along with some of the more exciting design elements from the “Ravine” scheme, such as the tall overlook facing the Pier and beach.  The most favored characteristics, present to some degree in all three schemes, included (in order of preference):

·       Dramatic topography

·       Woodland planting and meadows

·       Viewing platforms and overlooks

·       Social seating

·       Intimate gardens

·       Specimen trees and botanical displays

·       An outdoor café

·       A gathering space for events.


The issue of bicycle access through the park was of particular interest to workshop attendees.  Of the 68 written comments received, 14 respondents, or 20%, mentioned bicycle usage in the park.  Of the 14 respondents, ten deemed the need for dedicated paths in the park for bike use only to avoid conflicts with other park uses very important.


The “Wash” was preferred for its connectivity, elegant and soft geometry, greater ratio of planting to paving, three groves of canopy trees, central open space, and the light-weight cable trellis to connect Town Square to Palisades Garden Walk as well as to create park gateways along Main Street and Ocean Avenue.  Areas of concern and further consideration were the scale of the central space, the need to ensure connections across the site and to adjacent areas and future projects including but not limited to the Village and the Civic Auditorium campus, and creating more opportunities for intimacy and play. 


The “Ravine” was the least preferred scheme overall, but was liked for its drama and height that allows for views to the ocean and its incorporation of water as an integrated design element.  Areas of concern were the large amount of paving, steep constructed edges, safety, and maintenance.


The “Dune” was preferred for its intimacy, playfulness, range, and diversity of uses supported by its spatial organization that allows for many rooms, high ratio of shade canopy, and its varied and thickened perimeter.  Areas of concern were the use of wood decking, cost, the lack of a large central open space, safety, and maintenance.


Survey results from the workshop participants showed that the steel cable trellis shown in the “Wash” scheme was “liked” and “strongly liked” by 69% of people responding, especially the trellis along Ocean Avenue and at the corner of Ocean Avenue and Colorado Avenue.  Of those surveyed, 73% of the community also liked and strongly liked the “Wash” water feature at Town Square.  Both of these features tie the Town Square to the park in both vertical and horizontal dimensions.



Responses to the Concept Design Options by Commissioners from the Recreation and Parks Commission and the Planning Commission

Each of the Commissioners in attendance responded with his or her comments.  In general, the Commissioners were pleased with various aspects in all of the concept options as well as the individual design elements.  The Commissioners agreed with the community that the organizational concepts of the “Wash” and “Dune” schemes were preferred while some individual elements in the “Ravine” scheme such as the high overlooks, water elements, and plant palette could be incorporated.  Some topics that were of special importance to the Commissioners included lighting for aesthetics and security, emphasis of native and drought-tolerant plants, and maintenance issues concerning some of the suggested materials.  Based on the Commissioner comments regarding bicycle circulation, the issue of bicycle paths within the park, as opposed to using dedicated paths adjacent to the park, needs further refinement and discussion. 


Recommended Concept Direction

Over the next few weeks, the City’s design team will continue to synthesize all of the comments received from the public and quantify information from the surveys that are distributed at community events and posted online.  Based on the preliminary input received to date, staff recommends that Council provide input and direction to the design team to proceed with further development of the “Arroyo Wash” scheme while incorporating some of the more positive design elements of the other schemes.  This will include refining the circulation pattern to ensure connectivity, adding drama and height attributes from the “Ravine” scheme, and incorporating more intimacy and playfulness attributes of the “Dune” scheme.


Next Steps

Based on Council input and direction on the proposed design concept, the following events will be scheduled:

·       Landmarks Commission: A review of design concepts is scheduled on October 11, 2010 to provide input on historic compatibility for different concepts for Town Square, which is located on the City-Designated Landmark City Hall property.

·       Presentation of design concepts to Arts Commission on October 18, 2010.

·       Presentation of design concepts to the Architectural Review Board on November 1, 2010.

·       Third community workshop and joint meeting of the Recreation and Parks Commission and the Planning Commission to review Schematic Design on November 13, 2010.

·       Presentation to Council on the Schematic Design at the December 14, 2010 Council meeting.

·       Fourth community workshop to present design development on January 31, 2011.

·       Presentations of design development to Landmarks Commission, Arts Commission, Public Art Commission, and the Architectural Review Board in March 2011.  Specific dates have not yet been set.

·       Presentation of design development at the April 4, 2010 Council meeting.


Financial Impacts & Budget Actions

There is no budget/financial impact associated with this action. The Palisades Garden Walk and Town Square Project budget is $25 million and is funded by the Redevelopment Agency. 


Prepared by:  Jean Bellman, Architect




Forwarded to Council:







Susan Cline

Acting Director of Public Works


Rod Gould

City Manager




A – Executive Summary of the Concept Design Community Outreach Summary Report