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Parking in Downtown Santa Monica Could Get Even Harder as City Leaves Cars in Rearview Mirror

 
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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

Editor's note: A previous version of this article has been changed to reflect that the proposed Downtown Plan allows for as many as 2,500 housing units and that the City Council voted unanimously to eliminate all minimum parking requirements for new residential units in the downtown.

July 19, 2017 -- As it ditches the car-centric ways of the past, the City of Santa Monica is also soon to bid farewell in its downtown to a prize cherished for decades by drivers everywhere: A parking spot of one’s own.

“Really?” said one poster at residocracry.org, an online site popular with community members suspicious of the City’s Downtown Community Plan (DCP), which is expected to be approved by the City Council on July 25.

“Sounds awful,” said Joe Harper, the writer. “Where are people going to park?”

So far, the often heated debate over the DCP has focused on the amount of development allowed under the plan, which would add as much as 3.2 million square feet of new development, including nearly 2,500 multi-family housing units ("Plan for Santa Monica's Downtown Receives Initial Nod from City Council," July 13, 2017).

The parking diet for motorists, however, has remained mostly under the radar.

In the final draft of the plan, developers were required to construct half a space for every studio and one-bedroom apartment and one parking space for every apartment with two or more bedrooms. For guests, buildings would have had one guest space for every fifteen units.

At its July 11 meeting, the City Council voted unanimously to eliminate all parking requirements for new residential units in the Downtown.

Most of the dozens of apartment complexes to be built through 2030 will be at Santa Monica’s sky-high market rates for rents, which traditionally included the luxury of having a dedicated parking space.

Critics called the DCP’s cut in parking punitive, especially since most the city’s residents, workers and visitors still prefer cars to the alternative modes of transportation -- Expo trains, city buses, walking and biking -- the City is pushing.

Becoming “multi-modal” is the lynchpin in the City’s plans to grow its downtown without also creating more gridlock.

Less parking is another incentive for motorists to become car-free, or at least less car-addicted, City planners say.

In the downtown Santa Monica of the future, the population of dwellers will have grown from some 4,700 residents in 2017 to 7,800 residents by 2030, but “many residents (will) use their cars infrequently,” the plan says.

“Some live car-free, taking advantage of car-share opportunities that provide them with wheels when they need them. Residents who don’t own a car appreciate that they can reduce their rent by not paying for parking they don’t need.

“For some, this makes the difference, along with other transportation savings, in affording to rent an apartment in Downtown Santa Monica,” according to the plan.

Although residents understand the value of alternative transit -- such modes are greener, healthier and less costly -- many are skeptical about drivers ditching cars anytime soon, especially in auto-obsessed Southern California.

“Let's face it,” said another Residocracy poster. “We are all too selfish to give up our cars.”

In addition to cutting required parking in new developments downtown, the City is looking to avert the need for building more parking for workers and visitors, whose presence helps swell the daytime population to an estimated quarter million people on most days.

Officials hope to “unlock” the potential of thousands of privately owned parking spaces, which they say are at times under-utilized even at peak-use hours. About 3,800 spaces of an estimated 5,200 could be available to the public at market rates, according to the DCP.

Public parking lots now offer about 6,300 spaces downtown, along with 980 on-street spaces.

Still, finding a parking space can sometimes prove challenging. Five of the nine public parking structures are at least at 85 percent capacity most of the time, Structure No. 1 is at 97 percent capacity by late Saturday afternoon and Structure No.3 is over-capacity by that time.

“Future efforts will need to consider how to redistribute demand so drivers can park in lots with more availability on the periphery of Downtown,” the DCP says.

Another recommendation is to expand the City’s "In-Lieu Fee Parking District” to downtown.

Under this option, new buildings and businesses would share parking instead of building single-use parking spaces.

Over the life of the plan, the fees could generate seed money for at least one additional parking structure, if needed.

About 800 more public parking spaces will be needed if the in-lieu fee district is created, preferably on the edge of downtown, according to the DCP.

 


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