Imagine you’ve recently moved into a beautiful new studio apartment located just steps from Santa Monica Place and the Third Street Promenade. Hip boutiques and gourmet restaurants are just outside your doorstep, and the world-famous Santa Monica Pier and beaches are easily accessible by foot, bicycle or skateboard.
Now imagine living there without a dedicated parking space in your building, making those runs to Whole Foods or Ikea that much more difficult. Would you still want to live there? While New Yorkers may deal with this daily, having to park blocks away from one’s home may come as a shock to Santa Monicans, who despite striving to live green lifestyles cannot help but be influenced by, and perhaps even a little addicted to, Southern California’s car culture. It’s going to be a tough sell, even after the Exposition Light Rail Line arrives at Fourth Street and Colorado Avenue.
But that’s the reality facing the developer of a five-story housing project with 56 units and approximately 10,000 square feet of commercial space at the corner of Fourth and Broadway where Grigsby Automotive now sits.
According to the architect and the developer’s lawyers, the site is too narrow to include parking (one architect unaffiliated with the project said 20 spaces could fit), and it is located next to an historic building, preventing an expanded footprint to include a subterranean garage. The developer would have liked to have included parking, realizing it’s easier to lease apartments with spaces available. But that doesn’t matter since the project is located in the archaic Downtown Parking Assessment District. Developers with projects located within the district do not have to provide parking under the law — regardless if the project is commercial or residential.
The district, which stretches from the alley east of Ocean Avenue to the alley east of Fourth Street, and from Broadway to Wilshire Boulevard, was created long before the Third Street Promenade when parking demand was much lower and the types of businesses present attracted fewer visitors. While that may have been a good idea decades ago, the district has no place in today’s environment (developers within the district almost always choose to build parking because they realize without it they will have trouble filling offices and apartments). The district needs to be abolished as city planners and community members meet over the next few months to create a Downtown Specific Plan, which will dictate development and impact traffic and parking.
There’s already a lack of parking permits available to Downtown residents and employees, and with the rebuilding of Parking Structure 6 and the elimination of Parking Structure 3 (to be replaced by a movie theater), the need is only expected to increase. We cannot have residential or commercial projects in Downtown without some parking being made available. To give people an exemption is ludicrous.
It’s also critical to conduct a thorough examination of parking demand and availability in Downtown moving forward so that the correct number of spaces can be built. We don’t want structures cluttering the streetscape if they are not needed, and we certainly don’t want to fall into the trap of light rail being the panacea for our parking woes, because it’s not. Light rail will help, but most people still rely on cars for the majority of their trips.
The developer of the Grigsby’s project is trying to work out long-term deals with the property managers of nearby housing developments to lease excess parking. City Hall is encouraging more of this and Downtown Santa Monica Inc., which oversees and markets the area, has reached out to private businesses to see if they would be willing on weekends to open their garages to visitors and employees. This is a good first step. That, coupled with a thorough parking demand study, will help us determine our true parking needs and could reduce requirements for future projects, saving both the developer and future tenants cash. After all, parking is expensive and if it isn’t needed, why build it? But you have to determine the need first before letting developers off the hook or creating hardships for those brave enough to create a residential community Downtown, which is the City Council’s vision.