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Traffic builds below 17th Street on the I-10 Freeway Monday afternoon. City officials are expected to study the possibility of creating a deck over the freeway, spanning about three blocks, where a park or public facilities could be built. (photo by Brandon Wise)

<i>Editor’s note: This story is part of an ongoing series that tracks the city’s expenditures appearing on upcoming Santa Monica City Council consent agendas. Consent agenda items are routinely passed by the City Council with little or no discussion from elected officials or the public. However, many of the items have been part of public discussion in the past.</i>

CITY HALL — A three-block strip of Interstate 10 could one day double as both a freeway and public park.

Santa Monica city officials plan to request grant funding from the California Department of Transportation to pay for a study examining the feasibility of constructing a deck covering the freeway from 14th to 17th streets, creating more land.

As part of a consent calendar that includes a $43.1 million spending package, the City Council tonight will be asked to authorize City Manager Lamont Ewell to submit an application asking for $250,000 from Caltrans to study “capping” the interstate, which would create up to seven acres of additional land.

Such decks have been constructed over the air space of freeways across the country. The closest case locally would be the McClure Tunnel, said Francie Stefan, a community and strategic planning manager for City Hall.

The extra space could be used for various purposes, from a park to public facilities, she said.

The study was identified in the Land Use and Circulation Element’s strategic framework, which recommends exploring the possibility of capping the freeway as part of the master plan for the Memorial Park area.

“The deck area would introduce a stronger connection between the park and areas south of the freeway,” a city staff report stated.

More money for saving lives

City Hall’s payment for Los Angeles County lifeguards at Santa Monica State Beach is about to get significantly more expensive.

A new 10-year, $28 million contract for year-round lifeguard service will require City Hall to increase its reimbursement for Los Angeles County Fire Department operating expenses from 30-40 percent to 100 percent.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department has been working on a month-to-month basis since its contract expired in December 2006. The new contract includes other changes including a 6 percent increase in the first year’s annual payment to the county and a CPI adjustment, all of which means that City Hall will have to appropriate an additional $66,806 to fund the remaining months this fiscal year.

Dispatch center progressing

As part of its move back to the Communications Center in the Public Safety Facility, the Santa Monica Fire Department is hoping to upgrade some out-of-date equipment.

The department is planning on spending more than $472,000 for 122 new radios that are compatible with its current system.

The SMFD is in the process of reactivating the Communications Center, which sat dormant for more than two years while dispatch services went regionally through the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Officials estimated in January that the move would take about nine months.

GeoComm, a consultant which recommended the switch back to the Communications Center, is also slated to receive an extra $51,000 to its contract to see through the transition period.

The department experienced several problems with the Regional Dispatch Center, including confusion caused by emergency calls that came from addresses that existed both in Santa Monica and Los Angeles. The center also dealt with problems experiencing overwhelming call volumes, which would lead to periods of time every day when the system would be saturated, leaving 911 lines ringing longer than the department would have preferred.

The council decided earlier this year that dispatch services should be brought back in house.

Help with Expo

With the construction of the Exposition Light Rail expected to commence in the next two years, bringing the long-awaited electric train from Culver City to Downtown Santa Monica, city officials are looking for an extra set of helping hands.

Both The Odermatt Group and Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates are expected to receive contracts to provide planning assistance related to the Exposition Light Rail and the Land Use and Circulation Element — a planning document in which the electric train will play a crucial role.

The Odermatt Group is slated to receive a $235,000 contract while Nelson/Nygaard, which has worked with City Hall numerous times on the LUCE in the past, could receive a $210,000 deal. Both will deal with transportation and urban planning issues related to Expo and the LUCE.

New electric buses to be added

The Big Blue Bus is planning on purchasing a fleet of new gasoline/electric hybrid buses using approximately $8 million in federal stimulus package money.

The price tag includes 10 new buses, staff training, spare parts and a contingency fund. The new vehicles will replace an equal number of 30-foot-long Thomas buses that officials said have exceeded their useful life.

“The quieter engines in the new buses will reduce the amount of noise generated by 20 percent in neighborhoods,” a staff report stated.

Furnishing beach house

Just one month left before the Annenberg Community Beach House opens, City Hall is putting the finishing touches on the newest public facility.

One of those last pieces includes furnishing.

City officials are planning on buying about $36,000 more in outdoor furniture from JANUS et Cie for the pool area.

The beach house was once the site of the Marion Davies Estate.

Charnock Well update

City Hall is planning on expanding a contract with Veatch Construction, which is working on a project to restore the local drinking water supply, to purchase new treatment equipment and demolish structures near the existing plant.

The Charnock Well Field Restoration Project aims to bring local sources back into the public drinking water system.

It was about a dozen years ago that five wells in the Charnock Field were taken out of commission after officials discovered an MTBE contamination from leaking underground gasoline storage tanks owned by several oil companies, including Shell, Chevron and Exxon Mobil. Several settlements resulted over the next decade, including $120 million from the oil companies in 2003 and another $131 million in 2006.

About 75 percent of the local supply comes from the Metropolitan Water District.

The new equipment and demolition are necessary to meet the project’s schedule, the staff report stated.

Life insurance and legal services

The City Council will be asked to approve annual premiums to City Hall employees’ Group Benefit Plan in the amount of $1.2 million.

The benefits package includes group term life insurance, accidental death and dismemberment and long-term disability coverage.

The council is also expected to approve a $250,000 contract with Kane, Ballmer & Berkman to provide legal services for City Hall, the Redevelopment Agency and Parking Authority.

melodyh@smdp.com