CITY HALL — The City Council on Tuesday got its first chance to formally weigh in on early-stage concepts for what is likely to become the most significant public space in Santa Monica — and the council’s most lasting legacy.
Leaders for the first time on Tuesday reviewed preliminary designs for the Palisades Garden Walk and Town Square that is slated for 7 acres in the Civic Center, commenting on the drawings but for the most part refraining from issuing specific judgments.
The park, a $25 million project funded by Santa Monica’s Redevelopment Agency, is planned for a vacant lot next to Rand Corp., with the town square portion to be located just west of City Hall.
New York landscape architecture firm James Corner Field Operations has been commissioned to come up with a design.
On Tuesday, council members were largely complimentary of the design team, which has already conducted two public meetings to gather residents’ ideas.
Councilman Kevin McKeown praised the firm’s efforts to incorporate feedback from Santa Monica residents.
“I was astonished at the two workshops you conducted — how you engaged our community, directed our thinking productively, came out with these ideas, funneled us toward options, and yet I never felt you limited us,” he said.
Once built, leaders hope the park will become a destination for residents and visitors as well as a connector between the beach, the Civic Center and points east.
On Tuesday, James Corner presented three concepts for the space. The simplest design, called the “Arroyo Wash,” featured “fluid pathways and hills that appear to organically emerge from the entrance of City Hall, extending outward toward Downtown, the pier, and beach,” according to a City Hall description. The design also included “newly created hills and overlooks with a maximum height of 15 feet.”
The “Arroyo Ravine” scheme consisted primarily of a wide pathway between two powerful man made hills, narrow at the entrance on Ocean Avenue and Colorado Boulevard and widening to a plaza on Main Street. In the design, each hill is a long, ramped landscape leading to an overlook with one oriented toward City Hall and the other toward the pier and beach at a maximum height of 20 feet.
The most distinct design was called the “Arroyo Dune” and featured “an animated and playful arrangement of earthwork forms and garden areas,” according to the City Hall description. “The pathways are programmed for seating, strolling, and people-watching while landscaped areas are confined to the specific puzzle pieces of varied topographic forms and overlooks of a maximum height of 15,” the description continued.
Council members, who must ultimately approve a design, did not select a preferred concept, but contributed feedback on the plans.
Mayor Bobby Shriver said he was for incorporating an element of “wildness” into the park, that is, an area that looks more like natural terrain than a meticulously landscaped park.
Council members Gleam Davis and Pam O’Connor encouraged designers to incorporate play areas for kids into the park and Councilman Bob Holbrook raised a concern about a proposal to replace the rose garden in front of City Hall built to honor military veterans with a water sculpture.
McKeown also indicated the specifics of how paths for cyclists will be incorporated into the park design will become an important topic as the design process progresses.
A joint meeting of the Recreation and Parks Commission and the Planning Commission to review an updated design is set for Nov. 13, followed by a second design presentation to the City Council on Dec. 14.