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(photo by Brandon Wise)

EXPOSITION BLVD. — While much of the debate over the Expo light rail maintenance yard has been focused on the impact to neighbors, the latest proposal is also expected to result in some inconveniences for Santa Monica College.

Considered an alternative to a controversial proposal to locate a facility on the current Verizon site, the most recent version would spread the functions of the yard over several properties, placing the noisier operations to the west side of Stewart Street onto city-owned property. Doing so could also entail use of a 2.35 acre parking lot at 2909 Exposition Blvd., which the college bought in late 2006 for $17.3 million using Measure S bond money.

“For various reasons, the particular plan does not work for the college but we are continuing to explore alternatives in order to bring rail to Santa Monica,” Don Girard, the senior director of government relations and institutional communications for SMC, said.

If the Exposition Construction Authority ultimately decides to adopt the alternative proposal, SMC would most likely have to search for a new location to build a satellite parking lot. College officials have already asked City Hall to aid in that process, looking specifically at areas that are adjacent to one of SMC’s four existing campuses — Main, Bundy, Madison and Academy.

The revenue from the sale of the existing lot would have to be used toward college capital programs as required by the bond measure. Girard said he anticipates that the property would be sold at around or above the price the college paid back in 2006 because of an increased level of interest in the area, which is due to see some changes under the Land Use and Circulation Element.

City officials are also looking at other options for the maintenance yard and is expected to present those findings at the City Council meeting on Aug. 11.

“We’re working furiously to see what’s possible,” Kate Vernez, the assistant to the city manager on government relations, said.

The council last month authorized its staff to continue exploring the alternative proposal, favoring it over the previous option to place the yard directly across from homes. Officials also requested the Exposition Construction Authority to include the new option in its environmental analysis.

The latest proposal would move the louder operations to the west side of Stewart next to cultural arts complex Bergamot Station and the City Yards, while the storage tracks and train washing facility would be kept on the east side of Stewart Street. The yard would also be separated from homes on the south side of Exposition Boulevard by a mixed-use development that will include residences and perhaps some neighborhood-serving retail.

The alternative plan once again met with opposition from neighbors who were joined by the Lionstone Group, which has a leasehold on the city-owned site until 2030. Representatives from Bergamot Station also expressed their displeasure with the proposal.

Both the Exposition Construction Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority supported the alternative proposal but the lack of community support, increased cost from having to acquire the Verizon and college lots, and an unwilling leasehold seller could mean that the agencies are no longer interested in the option, Vernez said.

“We’re trying to close on these issues before going to council on Aug. 11,” she said.

The college’s parking lot has about 220 spaces, which are about 80 to 90 percent occupied during the fall and spring semesters. The lot is serviced by the Big Blue Bus’ Sunset Ride, which sees anywhere between 150 to 230 boardings a day at the stop. The Sunset Ride also stops at the college.

“We’re really happy with the success of the Sunset Ride,” Dan Dawson, the marketing manager for the Big Blue Bus, said. “If they were to locate something with the Expo line there, it would be pretty easy for us to make modifications or changes.”

The college has about 4,200 spaces between the various campuses.

The Exposition lot was purchased to help alleviate a long-standing parking shortage problem for the college. While such an issue doesn’t exist at the satellite campuses, Girard said that there is still a parking shortage at the main campus where construction recently began for a new subterranean structure that will include more than 500 spaces.

College officials looked at several candidates for the satellite lot back in 2006, including the old Papermate facility.

David Finkel, the vice-chair of the college Board of Trustees, sees positive and negative attributes of the proposed alternative plan, the former of which would be the preservation of Bergamot Station as a cultural center and protection of residents because of the buffer zone between the yard and the homes.

The bad point is that it means a maintenance yard will be located in Santa Monica at all and that it takes away SMC’s lot. He said the Board of Trustees is still waiting to see what position it should take on the matter.

“The college has to protect the public interest by either protecting our land or getting a replacement, which serves the same purpose, so the public doesn’t get hurt for the bond money spent,” Finkel said.

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