It’s frustrating and disappointing that Saint John’s Hospital believes it can meet its parking obligation by abandoning a reasonable plan to build a subterranean parking garage and instead continue to lease spaces at nearby lots and rely on valet parking to serve its patients and their families, as well as doctors and nurses.

Saint John’s says building the parking garage would just be too expensive (not the taxpayers’ problem) and the parking demand can be met by leasing off-site spaces, while also encouraging employees to take the bus, bike or carpool, otherwise known as an “aggressive” transportation demand management program.

Even if Saint John’s can get half of its employees to change their commuting habits (a pretty optimistic estimate), it shouldn’t automatically let Saint John’s off the hook for the parking garage.

With only a valet system in place and a third of parking off-site, Saint John’s will add to the traffic congestion as valets drive through residential streets from various parking garages to get cars to hospital visitors. By having a centrally-located parking structure, valets will not have to drive on our streets, the length of trips could be reduced and in turn reduce the impact on the environment.

And what about those drivers who hate valet and don’t want to wait for their cars? They will certainly look for street parking that is more convenient for them, taking away parking from residents and customers of nearby businesses. As soon as word gets out that people will have to wait five or 10 minutes for their cars, the valet will become a less attractive option.

Then there’s the possibility that parking currently leased by the hospital could be taken away by new tenants of the Yahoo! Center. And there’s still a doubt as to whether or not the Yahoo! Center is violating its development agreement by leasing the parking spaces to begin with. City staff is looking into it. It’s about time.

The point is, no entity as large as the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System, which owns Saint John’s, should rely on another to meet its parking needs.

A goal of the new Land Use and Circulation Element is to reduce car trips through transportation demand programs, as well as possibly de-coupling parking from housing as an incentive to use public transit or bike in exchange for cheaper rent. The Expo light rail line will certainly help get people out of their cars, but to think that parking demand can be met through these means alone is not wise. Parking will still be needed in the future as demand for the hospital grows along with Santa Monica’s population with all the new housing being proposed for the old industrial area on the eastside.

Saint John’s can argue all it wants that it was never required to build the parking garage. We don’t care. We believe that was the intention when the City Council entered into the development agreement and the hospital should live up to its obligation. Their request to amend the DA is particularly troublesome since it comes after the hospital already built the majority of its project. Saint John’s got what it wanted and something the community is grateful to have — a new hospital. Now it’s time for Saint John’s to fulfill its end of the bargain.

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