MID CITY — A parking study commissioned by Saint John’s Health Center suggests that the facility will have enough parking to cover its needs, even if it loses hundreds of spaces it leases from a private business.
The report, written by Walker Parking Consultants, could let the hospital off the hook for building an estimated $25 million parking structure, something nearby residents are demanding it build because they say hospital employees and patients crowd their streets and take up scarce parking spots.
The report shows that Saint John’s only uses 94 of the 450 spaces that it leases at the Colorado Center, and that an expansion at two new parking facilities on campus as well as the lease of another 125 spaces off-campus will more than make up for the loss.
That made up almost a third of the 1,528 spaces that the hospital committed itself to finding through a 2011 amendment to its development agreement. That amendment legalized the practice of leasing spaces at the then-Yahoo! Center. Saint John’s was also allowed to delay the construction of a parking structure it initially agreed to build over a decade ago.
Saint John’s leased between 150 to 400 spaces at Colorado Center as part of its construction period parking plan to satisfy City Hall when the development agreement amendment was being processed, said Steven Sharrer, acting vice president of human resources at the hospital.
The proposed arrangement would leave the hospital with 1,208 spaces, according to the study, although only 1,188 are considered part of the “effective supply” because of inefficiencies that result from a lack of parking attendants.
Despite that, the only deficiency in the proposed parking scheme, according to Walker Parking Consultants, is allocation — the hospital reserved too many spaces for its patients and visitors and not enough for its employees.
Still, the hospital plans to rent 125 spaces at a nearby parking structure to replace the 94 potentially lost at the Colorado Center, although they are “not needed to meet Saint John’s parking demand,” according to the report.
The report was commissioned as part of an update to the hospital’s Parking Management Plan, required by City Hall after Saint John’s leadership received notice from the Colorado Center’s owners in December that their lease of the spaces would be up within 120 days.
Saint John’s disputes that the company can end its lease.
The results of the report fly in the face of popular perception, which holds that Saint John’s employees solve their parking problems by finding spaces sprinkled throughout the neighborhood.
Employees who choose to drive to work pay $10 per pay period, or roughly $22 per month, for the privilege, Sharrer said.
Others receive a direct cash subsidy from the hospital for walking, biking, taking mass transit or carpooling to work.
Those people cannot purchase a parking pass, Sharrer said, although they are entitled to use parking for “a limited number of days if circumstances warrant it.”
City Hall and the hospital are working together to fight the on-street parking sprawl that many residents attribute to the hospital’s employees and customers.
New smartmeters prevent people from staying in one spot all day, and the parking analysis suggested either extending the hours that the meters are active past 6 p.m. or raising the prices on meters to discourage long-term parking there.
“Our understanding is the city staff is considering whether any additional changes are needed,” Sharrer said.
Saint John’s has committed to sending Walker Parking Consultants out to conduct an on-street survey within 120 days of opening two new facilities, which were expected to open at the end of March.
That timing seems off to Gregg Heacock, member of the Mid-City Neighbors neighborhood group.
City Hall should wait for the on-street study to be completed before signing off on smaller parking requirements so that it can find out if the hospital’s employees are actually using the spaces provided or if they’re finding cheaper alternatives, he said.
“Well, let’s wait for it,” Heacock said. “I think there ought to be some anecdotal study for the nurses and staff to find out what’s going on with them. What’s really happening, we want to be fair. Is this working, or is something wrong here?”
Staff has not yet prepared a response to the report.
Councilmember Terry O’Day had not yet had time to review the report, but said it’s important to “rely on facts.”
“We have to keep in mind that we are fortunate to have great hospitals in Santa Monica, when so many other communities have none. Saint John’s Hospital is an important part of our life (and) safety in this city,” O’Day said Wednesday.
Others are less charitable, and believe the original 434-space structure should have gone up in the first place.
“I still think it was a mistake two years ago to absolve Saint John’s of their parking structure commitment,” said City Councilmember Kevin McKeown. “I can’t believe residents in Mid-City are imagining their parking problems.”
Saint John’s has undergone a number of high-profile changes in recent months, including an overhaul of its top staff.
The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that multiple health systems including UCLA — which also has a hospital in Santa Monica — are considering bids on the hospital, which has struggled to break even in recent years.
According to the article, Saint John’s lost $21.9 million in 2010 and $12.8 million in 2011.