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“Parklets” to Debut in Santa Monica  

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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

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Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

April 4, 2017 -- In park-starved Santa Monica, an experiment will soon test whether the populace can find the soothing power of open space in tiny spots once meant for cars.

The spaces, which are called “parklets,” use street parking to squeeze in no-vehicles-allowed zones for people to socialize, just relax or maybe dine.

Birdseye View of Parklet
Birdseye view of parklet (Image courtesy of City of Santa Monica)

Starting in July, they are slated to pop up in three areas of Main Street –- the 2700 block, in front of Finn McCool; a block away, in front of Ashland Hill, and again on the next block, in front of Holy Guacamole.

Each involves converting two parallel parking spots on the street.

The City Council approved the small enclaves in 2015. Total cost is just shy of $71,000, which is being funded by the City.

The parklets are created with a temporary shell surface to replace the existing paving. They typically feature seating, chairs and tables, plant boxes and extras such as bike racks.

But the sites are small, and to the consternation of some, a far cry from the park space they are lobbying the City to provide downtown.

“I massively support legitimate parks, but this is not a park,” Jim Pickrell posted on the Facebook page for Residocracy, a slow-growth group at odds with the City over how much development will be allowed downtown.

Others worry about the loss of already scarce parking spots and potential danger of parklets being too close to street traffic.

“Let’s put some seats in the street and tell residents it’s their new park space,” one post read. “HahHahHah.”

Cities from San Francisco, Los Angeles and Long Beach to Phoenix, Seattle and Chicago already have installed versions of parklets.

In Santa Monica, officials are cautious yet optimistic.

In fact, the city’s Main Street Business Improvement Association pushed for the parklets, which will enhance the “ambience and aesthetic of the street,” Gary Gordon, executive director of the group’s board, said in a letter to the council as the one-year pilot was being considered.

They will serve “as a brief stop or a place for people to converse and eat or drink and enjoy the outdoors of Southern California,” he said.

The group has also asked that the small enclaves be used for customers of restaurants in the area.

Critics of the tiny parks say they would like the City to spend more of its $1.1 billion biennial budget to create either a sizable park or open space downtown.

Slow-growth activists, for instance, are urging the Council to replace "Plaza at Santa Monica" -- a proposed mixed-use project on a City owned 2.5-acre site at 4th and 5th streets and Arizona Avenue -- with a sprawling park ("Slow-Growth Activists Girding for Fight Against "Plaza at Santa Monica" Downtown," February 28, 2017).

Others note that after decades of begging, supporters still haven't received City funding for a temporary sports field on the site of a parking lot originally used for the Civic Auditorium ("Santa Monica Inches Forward with Civic Center Sports Field," March 2, 2017).

Faced with skepticism, supporters of the parklets are asking for patience.

“I think too many people in our city are too quick to judge an idea that has flourished in Seattle, San Fran and elsewhere,” said John Cyrus Smith, a City Recreation and Parks Commissioner, in a post on Monday on Residocracy’s Facebook page.

“Hoping all you residents support our push for a Parks bond in a coming election, because the city council won't be creating any new park space in our city without it,” Smith said.

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