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Civic Center, taken from the top of the parking structure on Fourth Street Wednesday the 25th of March. (photo by Brandon Wise)

CITY HALL — When the Exposition Light Rail rolls into Santa Monica in the next six to eight years, the Downtown terminal is expected to swarm with several hundred passengers with each inbound train, squeezing an already impacted area.

Such a scenario has raised some flags for city planning officials who are exploring traffic management measures to institute around the Expo station at the infamously congested Fourth Street and Colorado Avenue intersection.

The City Council on Tuesday tackled those options of improving circulation, which served as just one element of a larger discussion on the future of the Civic Center area and the role that the light rail is expected to play.

The Exposition Light Rail, as a system, is expected to carry about 62,000 passengers, translating to about 200 to 400 people off each train in Santa Monica.

“That’s a lot of people to put on this little intersection,” said Bob Odermatt, a City Hall transportation planning consultant.

A team of interdepartmental managers, including Housing and Economic Development, Public Works, Planning and Community Development, Big Blue Bus, and Community and Cultural Services, explored a variety of options to alleviate the expected impact to the Colorado and Fourth Street intersection, weighing how each traffic calming measure would impact developments and future projects in the Civic Center area.

Those options include adding a roundabout in front of the Rand Corp., and constructing a bridge from Second to Main Street, which has been proposed in the Civic Center Specific Plan but could conflict with a Moreton Bay Fig tree located on the south side of the I-10 Freeway.

The team is looking to further explore the Fourth Street freeway offramp through the existing City Hall north parking lot and onto Main Street, possibly continuing it through the future Palisades Garden Walk to Ocean Avenue. Doing so would help disperse traffic more efficiently, said Jeff Tumlin, a City Hall consultant from Nelson/Nygaard Associates.

The suggestion received some resistance from City Council members, including Ken Genser and Bobby Shriver, who expressed concerns with extending it to Ocean Avenue.

Councilwoman Pam O’Connor supported further exploring extending the offramp, adding that there are several streets that bisect Central Park in New York City.

“Maybe we don’t end up with it but it has worked well in other areas,” she said.

Changes in the Civic Center area could include decking the freeway and building a park that would be contiguous with Palisades Garden Walk. Capping the freeway would also allow redevelopment possibilities for the Holiday Inn, which would likely be impacted by any changes made to the I-10. City Hall is also exploring capping the freeway between 14th and 17th streets.

Eileen Fogarty, the director of Planning and Community Development, said the owners of the Holiday Inn have expressed interest in redeveloping their property.

Covering the freeway could also improve air quality.

“We could reduce air pollution by capping and gathering all the foul air and filtering it before it’s released into the environment,” Odermatt said.

education center moves forward

A long-awaited dream of early childhood education advocates to create a center for children of city employees could soon come true.

The City Manager received the green light from the council to begin negotiating an agreement with Santa Monica College to develop an Early Childcare Education Center on the Civic Auditorium Campus.

SMC has already earmarked about $7 million in bond funds for early childhood development while the Rand Corp. has contributed another half million dollars.

About $9 million total, including funds from the Redevelopment Agency, has been designated, said Barbara Stinchfield, the director of Community and Cultural Services.

The City Manager was also authorized to begin seeking firms who might be interested in exploring a public/private partnership to use the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.

Stinchfield said that through various studies conducted on the cultural life of Santa Monica, it became clear that the community has a desire for its own facility without having to travel to Downtown Los Angeles or Hollywood.

“With light rail coming in and with that sentiment, we feel that the time is right to really start looking and envisioning how to reposition the Civic Auditorium for the future,” she said.

Michael Myers, a member of the Arts Commission, agreed, pointing out that the last time he went to the Civic Auditorium was in 1989 for a Don Henley and Bonnie Raitt concert.

“It was the first concert my parents brought me to and it didn’t take me forever to get home,” he said. “With the revitalization of the civic, all of us can have that feeling again.”

Councilman Richard Bloom said that changes to the Civic Center area is a chance for city officials and staff to leave a lasting legacy for the future of Santa Monica.

“I think it’s a process that has kind of slowly been moving forward for really many years now,” he said. “We already have a world class city in my view but this is an extraordinary opportunity to take a greater leap forward into the future.”

melodyh@smdp.com

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