Last Tuesday, City Council took a first look at a conceptual plan to “integrate planning, urban design and circulation improvements" Downtown.
Using the proposed Expo Light Rail terminal at Fourth Street and Colorado Avenue as a starting point, the plan involves creating a “vibrant” rail terminal and reconfiguring Colorado Avenue, the Civic Center including the Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica Pier approach, Palisades Park and Santa Monica Place.
The proposal calls for expanding open space, altering traffic circulation, addressing parking needs and exploring “shared” use opportunities between the city, Santa Monica College and the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.
Specific recommendations call for reducing traffic lanes and adding transit, bicycle and pedestrian amenities on Colorado, bridging the I-10 Freeway, extending Michigan Avenue and the Fourth Street off-ramp to Ocean Avenue, building an early childhood education center, sharing facilities with Santa Monica High School — all in and around the Civic Center.
Council praised the plan’s varied aspects. However, the opportunity for a “revitalized cultural heart of a “World Class City’" was lost years ago because bad planning, political egos and blown opportunities have doomed the area to be a complete urban planning misfire.
The integrated plan is a hodge-podge: all razzle and no dazzle. Despite some intriguing ideas, this smorgasbord of wishful thinking contains mostly prunes. City Hall and its clueless consultants are trying to create "Disneyland-by-the-Sea” for tourists without Disney’s charm, amenities or even sense of purpose.
Over a decade ago, the city had the opportunity to build the new public library in the Civic Center and create a cultural and intellectual core for the city. Instead, it rebuilt the library at Sixth Street and Santa Monica Boulevard.
Then, 3-1/3-acres of precious public Civic Center open space was usurped for a massive 325 unit housing project that should have been more appropriately sited in the Downtown area where the new public library is now.
The fatal stab to “cultural heart of the community” was the inability of Santa Monica College and the city to agree on locating and erecting the recently opened Broad Stage adjacent to the Civic Auditorium instead of on leased school district “no-man’s land” at Santa Monica Boulevard and 11th Street.
Art and culture be further damned because, now the city and SMC are negotiating to build a $9-million plus early childhood education center to be operated by SMC near the Civic Auditorium. I’m not against early childhood education, but this is the worst possible place for it. What’s next? SMC’s auto shop, or science labs? And, what’s wrong with thed college’s vacant lot at Pico Boulevard and 14th Street for the center?
Instead of a city art and cultural center with a Civic Auditorium, Broad Stage, art galleries (relocated from Bergamot Station), library, small amphitheater for music and dance, nearby Barnum Hall, lawns and botanical gardens, we’ll have an obsolete multi-use auditorium, more streets, a limited access housing project, child education center and a soccer field. World class indeed.
City Council also approved finding a “partner” to help market and bring events to the Civic Auditorium now losing between $800,000 and $1 million, annually. But with the elimination of its 1,100 car surface parking lot for a soccer field pending, the nearest parking will be a quarter mile away — behind the courthouse! Removing parking is a perfect way to make the antiquated "Civic” completely useless as an entertainment venue and revenue generator.
That’s not all. City Council recently refused to support Metro recommendation for an elevated Expo configuration that would sweep over traffic above Olympic Boulevard from Euclid Street to an elevated terminal at Fourth Street and Colorado Avenue. Forget a real "gateway” terminal with a dramatic grand staircase/escalator/elevator entrance descending to a pedestrian plaza. Although this begs the question: How many gateways does this city need that are poorly functioning failures lacking focus and excitement?
I have no confidence in City Hall or its "spacey” consultants (who just got a hefty contract increase) to accomplish anything that makes sense or even serves residents needs. This proposed set of pipe dreams sets the stage for more and bigger planning failures on a massive scale.
In a related council discussion, the designs for the remaking of Macy’s department store into a Bloomingdales created some differing opinions, “Its not all that inviting … to invite me in to shop. It’s nothing special,” said Councilwoman Gleam Davis. She hit the nail on the head. There’s nothing exciting here. It’s, well, so underwhelming. Even my architect acquaintance opined, “Zzzzzzzzz.”
Architectural renderings show a monochromatic, industrial-looking building (like the new public library) across from the proposed Expo terminal and pedestrian plaza at “one of the most important intersections in the city.” Here’s hoping the folks at Macy’s Incorporated redo this dowdy edifice and create a really breathtaking signature facade. After all, aren’t we talking “gateway” to a “World Class City?”
Bill Bauer can be reached at email@example.com.