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Major Public Projects Slated for Downtown Santa Monica  

By Jonathan Friedman
Lookout Staff

June 16, 2010 -- With nearly a dozen major City projects in the pipeline, Downtown Santa Monica and the adjacent Civic Center are poised to undergo a major transformation. From replacing public parking structures and old bridges to bringing light rail and capping the freeway with a park, the city’s central district should become a more friendly place to stroll and drive within the next five years.

But before the benefits are reaped, the Downtown area must weather a number of ambitious construction projects that Bayside officials have been closely monitoring and weighing in on to insure they don't disrupt the busy central district.

"Overall, Bayside has been intimately involved with all of these projects," said Kathleen Rawson, CEO of the Bayside District Corporation, which runs Downtown. "We need to insure that implementation is successful and construction is thoughtfully planned. Otherwise, the Downtown could be completely overwhelmed with all these projects."

Following are some of the major capital projects being planned:


If the new light rail line is on schedule, the first trains should start pulling into a new Downtown Santa Monica station by 2015. Approved in February by the Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority Board, the proposed Expo light rail line will enter Downtown through Colorado Avenue, ending at a station on the current Sears Automotive site. This will mark the end of a line that begins in Downtown Los Angeles and will travel through Culver City to the sea.

When completed, the second phase of the project from Culver City will bring trains carrying between 200 and 400 passengers to the Downtown. Expo, which is moving ahead while fighting a lawsuit from a coalition of Westside homeowners, has selected two design/build teams for the project. The Expo Board is scheduled to make a final selection in November, with construction slated to begin in December this year.

"We've been advocates of light rail for some time and have been working with the City to insure that the planning of the light rail and the construction go as smoothly as possible," Rawson said.

Although this is an Expo project and the rail line, as well as the three Santa Monica stations, including the one Downtown, will eventually be operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), City and Bayside officials are staying involved in the development and have been meeting with Expo officials and both potential design/build teams.

“It is in our city,” said Ellen Gelbard, Santa Monica’s assistant director of planning and community development. “And as much as possible, we want to have a say about what we are going to see in our city.”


City officials are already laying the groundwork for the arrival of the train with a series of proposals that range from relocating utility lines to building an outdoor plaza at the station. In January, the City Council authorized a $320,000 contract with Cityworks Design to determine what modifications Colorado, as well as other streets, needs to integrate the rail line, which will run at street level.

The modifications include locating the poles that support the train’s electrical wires, reconfiguring street parking, widening the sidewalks, adding landscaping and relocating utilities displaced by the rail line. The consultant is scheduled to present the modifications before the light rail design is completed to ensure that the projects mesh. Expo will pay for and oversee the actual work.

The City also is planning several projects along Colorado Avenue in conjunction with the rail line that will be presented to the City Council on June 22. Still in the preliminary stages, the proposals include an outdoor plaza at the Downtown station and a pedestrian esplanade connecting Ocean Avenue to the station to accommodate the increased number of pedestrians expected to arrive to the area by rail.

The City has received a $3.5 million grant from Metro to cover some of the esplanade project, which should take care of about half the cost, Gelbard said. The process to select a design consultant is expected to begin in the fall, and the projects are expected to be completed when the trains arrive in 2015.

"We want to insure that the improvements in the southernmost part of Downtown enhance the pedestrian orientation of that area," Rawson said.


On the other side of the rail line from Downtown lies the Civic Center, and that area too is slated for major improvements. The Civic Center Specific Plan, approved by the City Council in 2005, calls for constructing the Civic Center Village, a privately funded 325-unit housing project; extending Olympic Boulevard to Ocean Avenue; capping the freeway; carving out a garden walk and town square, and building a childhood education center run with the help of Santa Monica College.

The proposed site of the childhood center could move if billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad decides to house his modern art collection in a Santa Monica Civic Center museum. The City Council in March approved a tentative deal for a museum at that location, but Broad has the same deal with the City of Los Angeles and has not made a final decision.

In an effort to revitalize the Civic Auditorium, the 51-year-old building is slated for a $25 million retrofit as part of the Specific Plan. Last fall, the council approved a measure calling for City staff to negotiate with theater operator Nederlander Organization for a public/private partnership to operate entertainment and convention complex. That negotiation is ongoing.


Passengers arriving by rail could find themselves strolling along a park above the 10 Freeway stretching from 4th Street to Ocean Avenue that would link Downtown to the newly redesigned Civic Center. The feasibility of the “freeway capping” is being studied by AECOM, a consulting firm hired by the City in January.

Consultants also are studying the possibility of building a bridge extending the freeway’s 4th Street ramp to Main Street as part of a plan to redirect the flow of traffic away from the proposed light rail station. A separate traffic analysis is being conducted to see if the bridge is needed. The circulation study -- which will provide the City with an analysis showing if Civic Center traffic patterns will change when the train is in operation -- is expected to be completed this summer.

“Part of the whole bridging and capping of the freeway effort is to really try and make it a pedestrian and bike-friendly city and figure out ways to get people across the freeway, which is really an impediment" to alternate modes of getting around, said City Planner Sarah Lejeune.

The nearly $3.5 million AECOM contract includes preliminary engineering analysis for a 4,000- to 5,500-square-foot stretch of land that would top the freeway off of Ocean Avenue. This small cap would connect Palisades Park to the planned six-acre Palisades Garden Walk.

“This little piece could be done in an expedited process,” said LeJeune, noting that this project would have to go through Caltrans, which fast-tracks projects that meet certain criteria, including the completion of the preliminary analysis currently under way.

Gelbard said there might be City Redevelopment Agency funding for the small capping project, depending on the results of AECOM’s study, which is expected to be completed in February. There is no full-blown proposal on the design or cost of the capping project, but a City consultant last year estimated that capping the freeway from 4th to Ocean would cost about $87 million.

City officials have not ruled out that some kind of building could be located there. The results of the AECOM study will give a better idea of the possibilities.


If the full freeway capping does become a reality, the Holiday Inn is interested in redeveloping its hotel, which would be located on parkland over a capped freeway, said Eileen Fogarty, the City’s director of Planning and Community Development. During preliminary talks, hotel and City officials have discussed leaving the hotel in the same footprint with an improved frontage or relocating the facility on and around the capped freeway.

“What they get is to front on the park, which is much nicer than fronting on the freeway,” Fogarty said. “They’ve talked to us a few different times, and they are basically waiting for the City to proceed with the feasibility study of the freeway capping.

“Ultimately the issue would be one of negotiation, where the City would expect the Holiday Inn to participate in this [capping] project,” Fogarty said.


The $25 million Palisades Garden Walk & Town Square would include a new six-acre park between Ocean Avenue and Main Street, as well as a one-acre Town Square in front of City Hall. The council last month selected New York-based James Corner Field Operations to design the project, but there will be plenty of community input in the park’s design.

There will be a series of open houses, community workshops and surveys beginning in July, with the City Council and several commissions giving their input, said Barbara Stinchfield, Santa Monica’s director of Community and Cultural Services. Taking the input into account, the contractor will present design development details to the council in April.

If all goes smoothly, construction could begin in January 2012, and the park could be opened by December 2012.

“Our hope is that it addresses whatever the community wants,” Stinchfield said about the park. “A lot of people really saw this as something very unique, the last chance to do something really innovative in designing a space in the area into a park. So I think that’s why people see it as their central park … It will be very unique and feature the values of our community.”


A project near Downtown born out of necessity is the replacement of the California Incline, the bridge road that connects Ocean Avenue at the California Avenue intersection to Pacific Coast Highway. Built in the 1930s, the road must be replaced after receiving a “Low Sufficiency” rating by Caltrans.

“We have truly gotten our money’s worth out of the original bridge,” said Lee Swain, the City’s director of Public Works. “With all the new seismic standards, it is very deserving of being reconstructed.”

This project is eligible for federal funding that could take care of nearly 90 percent of the estimated $10 million cost. The final design and draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project are slated to be completed in the summer. This would be followed by a 45-day public review period.

A Final EIR, along with the project design, could go before the council for approval in the fall. An Environmental Impact Statement, required for projects involving federal funds, also is being drafted and must go through Caltrans review. Swain hopes both environmental documents could be finalized and approved around the same time.

After the environmental review, the project will require some additional design work and authorization from Caltrans. Construction could begin in early 2012 and traffic will need to be diverted during the work, Swain said.

The plan is to direct southbound traffic attempting to reach Pacific Coast Highway to the Moomat Ahiko Way ramp near the pier. Northbound traffic coming from the highway also would be redirected to that ramp or possibly to Entrada, which connects to 7th Street.

"This project has to be very thoughtfully done so it has the least impact on the community as a whole," Rawson said.


Another bridge requiring replacement is the one connecting Colorado Avenue to the pier. The Pier Access Improvement Project has been on the table for several years, but is now back on the drawing board. There is no official proposal of how to replace the bridge, which, like the California Incline, was built in the 1930s and received a "Low Sufficiency" rating from Caltrans.

The City’s light-rail-related projects will help guide future decisions concerning the nearby bridge, Swain said. “A lot of that work needs to be completed before we can focus on exactly what we want this bridge to look like,” he said.

The bridge project won’t be completed for at least five years, and there is no funding for it yet, although it could be eligible for the same federal program as the California Incline, Swain said.


The City has embarked on the design phase for the demolition and replacement of Parking Structure 6, the five-story facility on Second Street between Broadway and Santa Monica Boulevard. The structure is one of only two in Downtown designated to be rebuilt to bring it up to seismic standards and add more spaces.

The Structure 6 redevelopment will be funded through a variety of sources, including revenue from the increased parking rates approved by the council last month. Redevelopment of the other large public parking facility -- Structure 1 on 4th Street between Arizona Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard -- is on hold until funding can be established.

The City Council last month approved a $3.6 million design and build contract with Morley Construction for the project. Morley will return to council with a final design plan at a date yet to be determined. Council members last November gave some input on what they would like to see in the structure, including solar panel roofing, ground floor retail and accommodations for bicycles.

Structure 6 is currently home to a salon, which is on a month-to-month lease pending demolition, and a police substation, which will be moved to Structure 5 on 4th Street between Broadway and Santa Monica Boulevard.

"The replacement of Parking Structure 6, and 3 if that moves forward, needs to be managed in conjunction with the entire parking system, so people have easy access to alternative parking," Rawson said. "We are working closely with the City to make sure that happens."

The renovation of the two large structures will add some 570 public parking spaces Downtown. No additional spaces need to be built for now, according to the City’s parking consultants.


Overall, Bayside has been intimately involved with all of these projects, We need to insure that implementation is successful and construction is thoughtfully planned. Otherwise, the Downtown could be completely overwhelmed with all these projects.
Kathleen Rawson, CEO
Bayside District Corporation


“Part of the whole bridging and capping of the freeway effort is to really try and make it a pedestrian and bike-friendly city and figure out ways to get people across the freeway, which is really an impediment to alternate modes of getting around
Sarah Lejeune, City Planner


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