City officials have renewed discussions with the California Department of Transportation about relinquishing the stateÕs control of a 1.2 mile stretch of Lincoln Boulevard to City Hall, a move that would provide flexibility when it comes to future improvements to the drab corridor. (photo by Brandon Wise)

LINCOLN BOULEVARD — An unsightly stretch of Highway 1 that has long been thought of needing a little TLC could soon be in the hands of City Hall.

City officials have renewed discussions with the California Department of Transportation — better known as Caltrans — about relinquishing the state’s control of a 1.2 mile stretch of Lincoln Boulevard to City Hall, a move that would provide flexibility when it comes to future improvements to the drab corridor.

“It would give us more control over the roadway so that we can properly maintain the roadway and if we want to make operational or urban design improvements, we would have the ability to do that without seeking approval from Caltrans, which greatly simplifies the process,” Lee Swain, the director of public works, said.

Swain is scheduled to make a presentation to the City Council tonight on the status of his discussions with state officials over Lincoln Boulevard, as well as updates on conversations with Caltrans regarding the Palisades Bluff Stabilization and California Incline Replacement projects.

The portion of Lincoln Boulevard in question spans the I-10 Freeway to the southern city limits, a stretch considered by many to be in need of improvement, filled with plain one-and two-story buildings, motels, automobile dealerships and massage parlors.

“The relinquishment will enable the city to move forward with our planning for the street itself,” Ellen Gelbard, the assistant director of planning and community development, said. “The city has wanted for a long time to take a good look at what could make the street more attractive and more pedestrian friendly.”

Doing so would require the introduction of a state bill that would authorize the transfer and deletion of the boulevard from the California State Highway System, Patrick Chandler, spokesman for the Caltrans’ District 7 office, said.

After a bill is signed by the governor, Caltrans would then have to negotiate the repair costs for the road. The entire process could take up to 10 years, Chandler said.

“In some cases Caltrans will bring the road up to code or standard then relinquish it to the city,” he said. “In some cases Caltrans and the city will negotiate what the repair costs are and relinquish the street and give the money to the city to bring the road to their standards.”

Swain said he expects the transfer to occur in a reasonable time frame of about one to two years.

City officials initiated talks for Lincoln in 2003 but negotiations were suspended about three years later. Swain, who wasn’t with City Hall at the time, said he suspects other issues came up for both agencies and the relinquishment wasn’t a priority at the time.

Caltrans previously relinquished portions of Santa Monica Boulevard to City Hall in 1996.

Swain said that discussions were renewed after he began meeting with Caltrans to update a 1960s street maintenance agreement for Lincoln.

“It started there and we realized we still had an interest in gaining Lincoln Boulevard in this section and having Caltrans relinquish it,” he said.

Both parties have also been meeting quarterly about several other projects, including the bluffs and California Incline.

The incline project involves replacing the bridge constructed in the 1930s. The project is currently in the design development phase.

Swain said there’s been complexities with the project involving Caltrans’ desire for City Hall to stabilize the bluffs above the incline as a safety measure.

“Our geotechnical team has been working on a solution that we believe we now have,” Swain said.

The federally-funded Palisades Bluff Stabilization Project involves installing horizontal drains to remove groundwater that collects behind the bluffs, reducing the chances of future landslides. The project is currently out for bid for a contractor. Swain said he expects a contract will be awarded in September.

New proposal for maintenance yard?

Less than a month after presenting an alternative plan to a controversial proposal to place a light rail maintenance yard in the Pico Neighborhood, city officials are expected to return tonight with another option.

The alternative plan involved moving the noisy functions of the maintenance facility away from east of Stewart Street and Exposition Boulevard to the west at a city-owned site, which would be farther away from homes. It also entailed using the Santa Monica College parking lot and the Verizon site, which in the original proposal by the Exposition Construction Authority would be the only site used for the yard.

The new option would still involve the Verizon site and SMC parking lot, but would use a portion of the city yards instead of the city-owned property at 1800 Stewart St. A 120-foot buffer would also be constructed to protect the residents on Exposition Boulevard from the yard.

Expo officials said they no longer back the alternative plan presented in July because it’s too costly and has even more opposition than its original proposal. The Lionstone Group, which owns the lease for the city-owned site at 1800 Stewart, has also expressed opposition.

The Expo board has final say over where the yard will be placed. Expo officials have previously said that they exhausted all possible options to place the yard elsewhere within phase two of the light rail, which goes from Culver City to Santa Monica.

Samantha Bricker, the chief operating officer of the Exposition Construction Authority, said the agency continues to back its original proposal — the Verizon site.

“At this stage we’re not recommending a different site,” she said. “We’re going to continue to work with the city on a different configuration of that site.”

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