Parking by the Pacific tops concerns over big City projects this week
Daily Press Staff Writer
Two major City projects south of Interstate 10 will appear before the Coastal Commission Thursday, the breaking wave of significant overhauls at City Hall, the Civic Center and more than a thousand parking spaces that serve Samohi, the Courthouse and City government.
Over the next decade, the City is poised to makeover the Civic Center, add a sports field near Samohi, expand City Hall and revitalize the sea of parking spaces across from the Rand Corporation.
The new city services building and an early childhood education center are furthest in the pipeline – their approval this week could have implications for the other projects, particularly the sports field as competition for parking increases.
When the Coastal Commission convenes in Chula Vista for its October meeting, it may give the final go-ahead for a Santa Monica College run school for infants and children up to five years old.
The state agency responsible for preserving coastal access will weigh whether the City can afford to lose 230 parking spaces within walking distance from the ocean for the learning lab.
The lab will be built on two acres of City-owned land on the corner of 4th Street and Civic Center Drive with an opening scheduled for 2019. The school will provide childcare for up to 110 children from ages 12 weeks to five-years-old.
In addition, SMC students studying early childhood education will have classes inside the building.
The goal is for “Santa Monica College students studying to become childhood educators (to) observe, practice and develop innovative methods to teach young children,” according to a letter from SMC Superintendent Kathryn Jeffery.
Coastal Commission staff is urging the Commission to vote yes on Thursday – arguing the Civic Center parking lot and structure already provide enough parking spaces to support the new demand brought by the school.
Staff is also recommending approval for the City Hall addition, which will also increase demand for parking in the area by consolidating City employees as well as services.
A staff report found the parking lot at the Civic Center is only 69 percent utilized, with as many as 400 spaces available on a weekday and 40 percent utilized on the weekend, with about 600 spaces available.
In the nearby garage, about 192 parking spaces remain available during the week and about 385 on the weekend. Coastal Commission staff also applauded the City’s overall efforts to provide car-free access to the beach.
“Downtown Santa Monica is unique in that the City is constantly working on ensuring that the downtown area is transit-oriented. An example of such efforts includes the founding of an Emissions Reduction Program.
This program makes use of the Metro Expo Line stations that recently opened, which are less than a quarter -mile from the project site, and of the public bike share system recently established downtown, which are within walking distance to the beach and the City’s Municipal Pier.
The close proximity and accessibility of the project site to the alternative transportation will help reduce parking demand at the project site,” says the report.
State Senator Ben Allen, State Assemblymember Richard Bloom, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, and Mayor Ted Winterer among others wrote letters to the Commission in support of the project.
A group of residents active in City politics have remained vocally opposed to the preschool and to the city services building for a variety of reasons.
Nine members of the public wrote letters urging the Commission to deny the project. Their letters complained about the City’s piecemeal approach to planning the area, public noticing and public access.
A letter signed by seven residents worries the parking spaces lost due to the first two projects will hurt the City’s ability to have a nearby sports field approved when it is eventually submitted to the Coastal Commission.
In June, the City Council unanimously voted to build a $8.6 million temporary field near the Civic Center that will replace 600 parking spots – many currently used by Samohi students and Courthouse employees.
When the Council approved plans for the field, members also approved a $250,000 parking study to analyze the impact of the field on nearby parking in advance of Coastal Commission review.
Coastal Commission staff noted all of the plans for the area have “potential to adversely impact public coastal access.
This is especially so if the development becomes a popular visitor destination with the potential to generate high demand such as, but not limited to, a multi-purpose sports field.”
The Coastal Commission meets Thursday, Oct. 12 inside Chula Vista City Council Chambers 276 Fourth Avenue Chula Vista, CA.
The meeting will be livestreamed at www.coastal.ca.gov.