CITY HALL — The City Council gave the go ahead to explore building a parking structure next to the Santa Monica Pier, although members cautioned staff to pay attention to the structure’s aesthetics and to avoid creating a traffic snarl in nearby neighborhoods.

The structure, proposed for what’s now a beach maintenance yard, would be short enough not to disrupt views from the bluffs immediately to the east of the pier, and would actually be below the majority of the pier bridge.

A small bridge would span the gap between the structure and the pier at the point where the two structures intersect.

As proposed, the structure would provide 270 spaces, the same number as are currently offered in the parking lot on the pier deck, which might then be closed.

Killing the surface lot would free up ocean views and 24 percent of the pier deck space and eliminate the conflict between the pedestrians that crowd the pier and the cars trying to get down the pier bridge to park in the lot.

“Cars and pedestrians are not an ideal mix,” said Martin Pastucha, director of public works.

At present, cars and pedestrians have an uneasy relationship on the pier. Both use the old pier bridge to descend to the deck. Pedestrians are supposed to keep to the sidewalks on either side of the main roadway, but often spill over the thin, concrete paths and into the street.

The Santa Monica Police Department shuts the bridge down for car traffic during big events, like the Twilight Dance Series summer concerts or the movie series on the pier, said Sgt. Richard Lewis, spokesperson for the department.

“It can be a public safety issue when you have vehicles weighing 4,000 pounds driving down a pier ramp packed with pedestrians,” Lewis said. “We’re fortunate we haven’t had a major event recently.”

Moving parking to an adjacent structure would solve that conflict and free up a considerable amount of the pier’s surface, which could then be included in the larger planning effort for the pier set to begin in the near future.

Councilmember Kevin McKeown stressed that while taking the parking off of the pier was desirable, the proposed location would put more traffic into nearby neighborhoods and encouraged staff to explore other options as well, including different locations.

“It might be good enough, but I’d like to see us go for something much better,” McKeown said.

Environmentally, at least, it would be an improvement, McKeown said.

When cars drive on the pier, they leak pollutants and leave residues that get washed onto or near the ocean.

Removing cars from the pier could “conceivably be a positive” for the environment, said Jessica Lass, spokesperson for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Other impacts from construction could be mitigated through compliance with storm water permits and the Clean Water Act, which Santa Monica does very well, Lass said.

Council members also focused on the look and feel of the structure.

Although it is not meant to interfere with the beach and ocean views, the structure had to be visually appealing and come with elements that would enliven the beach, like a bike rental or small retail, said Councilmember Terry O’Day.

The example of the night was a parking structure in Miami Beach so prized for its eye appeal that people rent it out for weddings, bar mitzvahs and other large occasions.

The concept has been on the radar since the City Council accepted the Land Use Plan of the Local Coastal Program in 1992 that requested 471 spots for the pier.

The program allowed Santa Monica to phase in new parking for the pier, as long as parking was provided before new development took place. Off-site parking was acceptable as long as the there was an effective shuttle system to get people to and from remote lots.

Representatives from the Pier Restoration Corporation and local businesses urged council members to pursue a larger amount of parking than simply replacement spaces for the 270 spots that would be lost from the pier.

“People do visit the beach and pier by car,” said Jeff Klocke, director of sales and marketing for the Pacific Park amusement park on the pier, urging for an incremental increase in the number of available spaces.

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