PICO BOULEVARD — As city officials search possible locations for a new branch library, one local organization is proposing an idea it believes would not only serve the literary needs of residents, but also their postal demands.
The Pico Improvement Organization, which represents businesses from the west to the east ends of the commercial boulevard, recently unveiled a plan for a three- to four-story development that will include a post office on the ground floor, library on the second floor and affordable and senior housing on the upper levels.
The recommendation comes as City Hall evaluates a variety of sites in the Pico Neighborhood for the new branch public library, having previously considered Virginia Avenue Park and an undisclosed spot on the boulevard as candidates. The neighborhood has the highest concentration of minority and low-income residents in Santa Monica and is one of a few in the city without its own branch library, the closest being the Fairview library on Ocean Park Boulevard.
Those with the organization believe the mixed-use development, which would be located somewhere on Pico, would help revitalize the commercial street, bringing more pedestrian life.
Robert Kronovet, who heads the Pico Improvement Organization, said the project could be placed at what he calls “functionally obsolete properties,” which are single story buildings that are of an odd shape and have limited parking spaces available. He said there are a number of such places on Pico, including several that are currently occupied by automobile-related businesses and liquor stores.
“The library would bring more diversification,” he said. “It would say to the community and the whole Westside of Los Angeles that Santa Monica is concerned about Pico Boulevard, which is a major thoroughfare.”
But some residents have expressed some concerns with the proposal, believing it would be out of scale with the neighborhood.
“It’s an enormous project,” Maria Loya, the co-chair of the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA), said. “We don’t want a big box development in our neighborhood.”
The PNA has taken an official stance to support placing the library on Pico Boulevard and not directly in Virginia Avenue Park, which City Hall just expanded several years ago.
“We feel that we can still have a library and a post office but not overwhelm our community with such a huge development,” she said.
Loya also questioned whether the housing portion of the proposal would actually be affordable.
“Our biggest attribute in the Pico Neighborhood is cultural and economic diversity,” she said.
Some residents expressed concerns of how the Farmers’ Market would be affected if the library is in the park. City officials have said that the library could be situated in a zone reserved for the market, but be placed in a way that would have minimal impact.
The cost to open a branch library at Virginia Avenue Park is estimated to cost $12.8 million. A library on Pico would command $30 million, including construction and site acquisition. The annual operating cost would be about $870,000 at either location.
Greg Mullen, the head librarian for the Santa Monica Public Library, said there are benefits to locating the library at either the park or elsewhere on Pico. A park branch would be convenient for the local youth who are already accessing afterschool services on the same site. But a library could serve as an anchor for redevelopment on Pico Boulevard, he said.
“Ultimately it’s up to the community and the council to decide and give us direction to move forward,” he said. “Our interest is to provide the best possible services that we can.”
In regard to the Pico Improvement Organization’s proposal, Mullen said he would prefer to see the branch library on the ground floor.
“Programmatically, single-story and first floor would work out better for us,” he said.
Julie Rusk, the human services manager for City Hall, said that while a library would lead to a synergy of programs at Virginia Avenue Park, she understands concerns about the loss of open space that would come as a result.
“It seems to me we’re very fortunate to be in a community to have this kind of debate and discussion,” she said. “Wherever it lands, it will be a value added to the city.”
Tom Avila, the owner of Avila Architects at 33rd Street and Pico Boulevard, seemed intrigued when informed about the proposal on Tuesday. He said if located on Pico, the library should be situated between businesses.
“They should put it in an area where people could have a variety of things along with a library,” he said. “The main library in Downtown in some ways is good because there’s a lot of activity around it and they feed off one another.”