Development in Santa Monica is a hot topic, but if it is going to occur, it should be done well. We like our density low and our parking plentiful. How might this look?
The Santa Monica Office and Retail Business Park on Ocean Park Boulevard stretches from 28th Street to Centinela Avenue, has several owners and plenty of parking. Although the area has a lot of great amenities — workers can walk to two different banks, dine in several restaurants and have easy access to shipping facilities — getting there is difficult. The facilities are locked off on Ocean Park Boulevard by a low wall with a scarcity of pedestrian entrances. It begs to be enhanced into a more walkable, vibrant environment.
As a pedestrian, getting from one side to the other is awkward, treacherous at times and downright uncomfortable. Not only are pedestrians not welcome, but neither are food truck diners or cyclists due to the mega-block street layout, paucity of outdoor seating and tables, bike parking and the outmoded 1970s master plan. Now home to countless high-tech businesses with scores of young employees, large and small builders, developers, accountants, art and cooking school students, and nomad food trucks, the amenities bar needs to be raised. Although it sports restaurants on its property, they are on the edges and not among the mix of office buildings, which would create an energetic center. There is no communal meeting place or town square and it dies after dark.
Look at 28th Street south of Ocean Park Boulevard. It is really wide with copious, but sparsely used, diagonal parking and little traffic. There are no mid-street crosswalks. Getting out to the commercial district along the east side of 28th Street, one must navigate a very narrow sidewalk where two people can’t fit walking side by side, or if coming from opposite directions someone has to step into the street. On the other side of this big divide is a water-hungry grass hill with no sidewalks so one must walk on a sloped grass hill; great for dogs, but not for people, especially in high heels.
Getting to the Wells Fargo from the Business Park is a chore. Crossing 28th Street going east, a pedestrian can either enter or exit through metal barriers meant to puncture rubber tires or on a small walkway, but the path ends abruptly and dumps one onto asphalt amidst a sea of parked cars. Inside the middle of the Business Park getting to the bank is as troublesome as it gets. One wades through a sea of cars, dodging motorists at times, and once near the bank, one must circumvent the rear end of parked cars as a space for peds is just another grassy knoll meant for grazing. Access from Ocean Park sports a well-beaten path up some ivy and down a drive-in teller asphalt driveway. Yikes. There is no real entrance from Ocean Park. The beautifully planted median strip actually locks one off, creating a barrier disrupting the grid.
Back in the ‘70s when this place was designed, it was laid out for cars, car access and parking — not people. The urban planning philosophy was uni-modal. Things have changed and now pedestrians and cyclists want their access and parking, too.
A dynamic contrast is the well-defined urbanistic Downtown. An evolving business center also, but a well-honed success. Real sidewalks are available that are wide and comfortable to walk on, stroll, or sit with welcoming street furniture. Office buildings and workers spill out and can easily access a variety of restaurants. Sure there is parking, but it does not visually dominate. Pedestrians are welcome, especially in the auto-free zone on the Third Street Promenade. There is housing and movies and nighttime entertainment. A great place to live, work and play.
So here are a few suggestions to enliven the Business Park:
City Hall should carve into those grassy knolls and make some sidewalks meant for two and give us some mid-street crosswalks please. Or better still, right size the street and narrow the roadway by creating generous sidewalks on both sides of 28th Street.
The owners need to create pathways to skirt the parked cars; it would be a delight. Also, include more seating for those who want to eat their lunches outside and enjoy the beautiful weather, and better define entrances to retail and offices off Ocean Park Boulevard in several places. Let’s make this a real village and develop the street edge, not as burmed and thirsty grassy or ground-cover barriers. More parking garages so we don’t walk through parked cars or see them. And to really fantasize, what if we made this into a real city environment similar to that of Santa Monica at large. Build on that sea of parking to make an urban edge against the sidewalks with offices, restaurants and retail to service the existing workforce, and above that housing as needed that will make a vibrant 24/7 community.
Room for a View is written by Urban Sense, a group of architects and former planning, housing and arts commissioners and conservationists, including Michael W. Folonis, FAIA, architect, principal of Santa Monica firm Michael W. Folonis Architects; Gwynne Pugh, FAIA, architect and engineer, LEED AP, principal of Santa Monica firm Gwynne Pugh Urban Studio, Inc.; Linda Jassim, writer and editor, landscape designer, principal of Santa Monica firm Studio J; John Zinner, sustainability and green building consultant, LEED fellow, principal at Zinner Consultants; and Hank Koning, FAIA, architect, principal of Santa Monica firm Koning Eizenberg Architecture.