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Council Sends Back Parking Plan for Auto Dealers

By Ann K. Williams
Staff Writer

October 26 -- The devil was in the details when the City Council reviewed plans Tuesday night to give auto dealers a chance to continue to park off-site and build parking structures on residential lots adjacent to their dealerships.

Council members and dealers agreed that the proposed temporary ordinance was a good idea in principle, but they also agreed that City staff needs to work out the plan’s bugs and come back with more information in January before the council can pass it.

“We’ve got a problem here that I think we’ve made a good faith commitment to solve,” said Council member Kevin McKeown. “We’ve made that commitment to the auto dealers, and we’ve made that commitment to the residents. And yet we just don’t have all the information here tonight.”

Attorney Chris Harding, who represents the Santa Monica Automobile Dealers Association, enumerated the dealers’ objections to the City’s attempt to balance their needs with those of residents.

The proposed ordinance would ban dealers from unloading cars on the street, force them to turn off car alarms, require setbacks that would cut into the space available for parked cars, extend code requirements and place a 90-day limit on off-site parking.

Calling for more “flexibility” by the City, Harding echoed dealers’ complaints that they have no choice but to unload cars on the streets because they don’t have enough room on site. Whether they have permits now or are unloading illegally was a point none of the speakers Tuesday night could or wanted to answer.

The proposed ordinance calls for dealers to turn off their car alarms, another unrealistic requirement, according to Mike Sullivan, Santa Monica’s VW dealer. This year’s alarms are so integrated with the rest of their computerized innards that turning them off is impractical, if not impossible.

Harding and the dealers, as well as Mayor Pro Tem Herb Katz, were disturbed by an apparent requirement that any expansion would trigger a massive overhaul of their entire businesses to bring them up to current code requirements.

While Katz called this a “disincentive to development,” Council member Ken Genser wanted to know what was so “onerous” about following City codes covering lighting and landscaping, codes he said were simply intended to make the dealers good neighbors.

Only one resident who was not a dealer spoke before the Council -- architect David Jensen who described himself as “pro business” and an “entrepreneur.”

Jensen said he had no problem with underground parking like that at Simonson Mercedes on 17th and Wilshire Boulevard, but was worried that above-ground parking structures would be “rather massive kind of boxy buildings” that would spoil the neighborhood.

There was considerable discussion and confusion over the setback requirements for these structures, prompting Katz to suggest “somebody present a graphic analysis of what the staff means on the setbacks and the heights… so the public can really see it and know they’re not getting a wall in front of their living quarters.”

With that, City staff was directed by Genser’s motion, passed by a unanimous voice vote, to return in January with more answers.

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