City Council Meeting: December 14, 2010

Agenda Item: 8 - A  


To:                Mayor and City Council


From:            Susan Cline, Acting Director of Public Works

                     Barbara Stinchfield, Director of Community and Cultural Services


Subject:        Schematic Design for Palisades Garden Walk & Town Square Project


Recommended Action

Staff recommends that City Council:

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

2.    Approve the recommended design direction.

3.    Direct staff to move forward with project design development documents.


Executive Summary


This report discusses the proposed schematic design developed by James Corner Field Operations, and the feedback received from the recent community workshop and joint session of the Recreation and Parks and Planning Commissions.  The proposed Schematic Design melds characteristics of all three original concept designs previously viewed by the community, Commissions and the City Council with the original “arroyo wash” concept being the predominant scheme while taking elements from the other two concepts, “the arroyo ravine” and “the arroyo dune.” 


Overall, the most favored characteristics of the proposed schematic design from the perspective of community members attending the November workshop or filling out online surveys and of the Planning and Recreation and Parks Commissioners were the scenic overlooks and bluffs, the informal gardens, the water features traversing the site, the “bays” that are carved from the bluffs, and the trellis lighting.  Based on the feedback received to date, with additional input from Council, staff recommends that the design team proceed with further development of the schematic design scheme into design development. 


Staff also recommends that Council consider some ancillary issues of the Civic Center Specific Plan in order to proceed with design development which include incorporating a park-oriented restaurant at the southwest corner of Palisades Garden Walk, and the vacation of certain alleyways to better connect the proposed restaurant site to the park. 




On June 28, 2005, Council adopted an update to the 1993 Civic Center Specific Plan (CCSP), including creating the six-acre Palisades Garden Walk, with an additional one-acre Town Square in front of City Hall. The CCSP also calls for the development of a park-oriented restaurant or a “tavern on the green” type of dining facility to be incorporated at the southwest corner of the new park to enhance park users’ experience within this iconic open space.

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 October 12, 2010, Council provided input on three initial design concepts and directed staff to proceed with Schematic Design.


On November 13, 2010, approximately 130 community members attended the third community workshop and joint meeting of the Planning and Recreation and Parks Commissions.  James Corner Field Operations summarized the results of the input received to date from the two previous workshops, from the City Council, the Recreation and Parks Commission, Planning Commission, Landmarks Commission, and approximately 450 community surveys.  The proposed schematic design was then presented to workshop participants and Commissioners.  Following the presentation, workshop participants broke into smaller groups to discuss and provide input on the proposed schematic design.  A representative from each group presented a verbal summary of the small group discussion to all workshop participants and the design team.  Participants were also given an opportunity to complete an individual written survey.  The workshop concluded with comments from both the Recreation and Parks Commission and the Planning Commission.  More information on the workshop and material presented, including the survey, is available at





Schematic Design Overview

The proposed schematic design builds on the strengths of the “arroyo wash” concept design.  Fluid braided pathways, reminiscent of land forms of an arroyo, appear to organically emerge from the Town Square extending outward through Palisades Garden Walk and connecting to the adjacent neighborhood, the Pier, the beach, and the rest of the civic campus.  Linear rolling topography reinforces the softness of the circulation system and creates a series of “bluffs” that host overlooks and framed views of the city.   Carved into the rolling topography are a series of “bays” that organize the site’s program and include spaces for small events and performances, a café with outdoor dining, gardens, play spaces, and bike way-stations. 


Water elements also originate in Town Square and, through a series of runnels, extend into the serpentine, flowing topography of Palisades Garden Walk that ultimately softens the sound of traffic along Ocean Avenue, on the site’s westernmost edge.  An overhead lighting trellis also creates a linkage between Town Square and Palisades Garden Walk and is the feature element near the corner of Ocean and Colorado Avenues.  


Three forest types are grouped over the site:  sycamores, oaks and pines – along with the relocated ficus trees and other existing trees - creating different canopies for a variety of shade experiences. “Morty” (the large Moreton Bay Fig tree) is preserved in place within an adjacent picnic grove.  Proposed planting on the ground plane consists of a variety of native grasses, perennials, bulbs and small shrubs that are easily maintained and drought-tolerant, but provide a colorful and unique complement to the site’s softness.  The overall ratio of softscape to hardscape is 70% to 30%.


A hierarchy of pathways ranging in widths between 6 to 20 feet extends through the park, with generous openings at Main Street, Olympic Drive and Ocean Avenue.  Addressing the need for a strong connection at the south western park entrance, adjacent to the Pier and Palisades Park, a phased approach is recommended.  Initial elements along Ocean Avenue to be constructed as part of the park project include a generous primary entrance set back from the corner of Ocean and Colorado Avenues, punctuated with the highest of overlooks to draw visitors to the entry.  These measures will be followed by construction of the first phase of the freeway cap to be completed shortly after the park is completed.  The next incremental element to be added to this important entry will include a widened sidewalk and related landscaping on the west side of Ocean Avenue to visually attract and direct visitors to the sidewalk and entrance to the park.


Schematic Design - Community Responses

Following the breakout discussions at the November workshop, the participants and the Commissioners came together to verbally share the conclusions from each table.  The most favored characteristics were the overlooks and bluffs, the gardens, the water features, the “bays,” and the trellis lighting.  Participants had strong feelings both for and against the frames that punctuate the overlooks and provide a focal point for scenic views, with some people highly in favor, others saying that the design needs refinement and could be combined with public art and others saying they did not like having their view so proscribed. Survey results showed that a large majority of the community strongly liked the mix of uses (62.9%) and the ratio of canopy cover (62.5%) that the scheme presented.  Least liked by the community was the proposed circulation for bikes in the park due to pedestrian safety


The issue of bikes in the park was discussed as participants articulated the need for wider bike lanes in the park, while others conversely questioned whether bikes in the park made sense at all.  The discussion also focused on making sure the bike circulation, if provided, did not overlap with either pedestrian circulation or children’s play areas.  Larger bike parking and valet areas at the periphery were desired by a large number of participants.


The community expressed that connectivity of the park to its surroundings is critically important.  The northeast corner of the site at the Main Street Bridge will connect to the proposed Colorado Esplanade and the new Expo terminus at 4th Street and will become a primary portal for visitors disembarking from the light rail.  In order to coordinate planning for a future freeway cap and extensive connections between the park and downtown, participants suggested that the design team provide pedestrian pathways.  These pedestrian pathways would provide an opportunity for future phases of freeway capping and circulation improvements to the northeast corner of the park.  Attention to providing an attractive route from the Village entrance to the northeast corner was also suggested.


As directed by Council in an earlier discussion, the community survey provided an opportunity for respondents to provide suggestions of new names for the parks.  Most participants were against keeping the name “Palisades Garden Walk.”  Suggestions included names referencing “arroyo,” “ocean,” “gardens,” and “Arcadia” or “Bandini.”  Staff will continue to obtain input on final naming options for future Council review and consideration.

Schematic Design - Commissioners Responses   

The Recreation and Parks and Planning Commissioners congratulated the design team on their successful community process over the past several months and their ability to synthesize the community’s thoughts about the parks.  The Commissioners echoed the community’s sentiment that connectivity of the park to its surroundings is critically important.  There was discussion that Palisades Garden Walk would benefit from an additional access point on the northeast corner of the site through to the main axis to encourage a more direct flow from the new Expo station and downtown.  The Commissioners generally liked the concept of the frames.  The trellis lighting concept was well liked, but the daytime effect of crisscrossing cables above the park was questioned.  Commissioners expressed the need to incorporate play and discovery opportunities for all ages throughout the park.  Larger bike parking areas and higher overlooks were suggested. 


In addition to review by the Planning and Recreation and Parks Commissions, the Landmarks Commission review of the schematic design is scheduled for December 13th and will focus on the Town Square given its landmark designation.  A verbal summary of their input will be presented to Council on December 14th. 


Schematic Design - Recommended Direction

Since the November 13th community workshop, the design team has continued to consider the many comments received both verbally and in the surveys.  Emerging design refinements include:  (1) stronger pedestrian linkages between the northeast corner of the park, the main circulation path and the Village entrance making it possible to more directly traverse the park between the Village and the new Expo station; (2) refinement of the “arroyo” topography to include defined “hill” areas organized around the stronger pathway system; and (3) the introduction of more softscape in Town Square.  The design team will continue to synthesize input and quantify survey information over the next few weeks.  Based on the preliminary input received, with additional input from the City Council, City staff recommends that the design team proceed with further development of the schematic design scheme into design development plans.


Additional Project Considerations

The Village Project Coordination – On November 11, 2010, the project team met with the Village Project’s developer (Related/Santa Monica Village, LLC) and their landscape architect (Mia Lehrer) to begin coordination efforts along the interface between the two projects at the new Olympic Drive South corridor.  Future meetings with the developer will provide opportunities for design and construction coordination.    


Tavern on the Green – The CCSP sets forth a vision to incorporate a park-oriented restaurant or “tavern on the green” at the southwest corner of the park.  Input from community workshops echo desires for food concessions and outdoor dining opportunities in the park.  At this time, the preparation of a restaurant analysis, preliminary study and concept design of a “tavern on the green” type dining facility is not included within the scope of the City’s contract with James Corner Field Operations.  Upon identifying the additional scope of services and costs related to the restaurant analysis, staff will return to Council to formally request a modification to James Corner Field Operations’ contract to conduct the above activities.  Staff will then return to Council to discuss restaurant options, selection criteria to be used in the selection of a restaurant operator, vacation of certain alleyways to connect the proposed restaurant to the park, and funding strategies.   


Next Steps

Based on City Council input on the direction for the proposed schematic design, the following next steps are planned:


·       Educational session on use of sustainable planting in the park project (January 29, 2011).


·       4th Community Workshop to review the proposed design development for the parks and concept designs for a park-oriented restaurant (February 26, 2011).


·       Staff presentations on design development to City Boards and Commissions that serve as advisory to the project, as requested (Spring 2011).


·       City Council meeting to discuss selection criteria and direct the issuance of a Request for Proposals to procure an operator for the park’s restaurant (February 2011).


·       Presentations of design development to Landmarks Commission, Arts Commission (and its Public Art Committee) and Architectural Review Board (Spring 2011) for regulatory reviews.


·       City Council Meeting to present design development package (June 14, 2011). 



Financial Impacts & Budget Actions

There are no financial impacts or budget actions as a result of this report.


Prepared by:  Jean Bellman, Architect




Forwarded to Council:







Susan Cline

Acting Director of Public Works


Rod Gould

City Manager




Barbara Stinchfield

Director of Community and Cultural Services