Cars park along Fourth Street just north of California Avenue. (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)
Cars park along Fourth Street just north of California Avenue. (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)

CITY HALL — The Planning Commission asked Planning Department officials to go back to the drawing board on an unpopular parking policy that would have reduced the amount of parking needed for future development.

Commissioners unanimously supported a motion that requested city planners come back with a second draft of the parking plan before moving forward with the zoning ordinance, a critical policy document that details what types of buildings can go up and where.

Commissioner Richard McKinnon placed the item on the agenda in the wake of hundreds of e-mails and communications received from residents who feared that they would no longer be able to rely on parking near their homes should the policies go forward.

“What has become clear is that it’s a topic that affects everyone in the city, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all discussion,” McKinnon said Wednesday.

He proposed delaying the zoning ordinance for another year as planners gathered community opinions on parking and incorporate them into a new proposal that better reflected local needs.

Planner Jory Phillips objected to the delay, citing budgetary issues.

“I do want to state that we believe the parking element is integral to the rest of the update,” Phillips said. “We wouldn’t want to see all of it unraveled and taken out. We believe the two are closely linked, and should be implemented simultaneously.”

Santa Monica planners also said that an extensive community process had already been conducted, and that another one wasn’t needed.

“We have been engaged in an ongoing dialogue with the community that has been rich and covered transportation and parking issues,” said Francie Stefan, community and strategic planning manager with City Hall.

Even community members, who flocked to the hearing, seemed split on exactly what they wanted to see in Santa Monica’s parking future, and how best to arrive there.

For some, parking was an “us versus them” issue pitting Santa Monicans against “outsiders” who flocked to steal parking from tax-paying residents.

Others sided with planners in the view that building more parking facilities would only attract cars and drivers like bees to honey.

“Kicking this can down the street for a year is not the solution that I would like to see happen,” said Cynthia Rose, Santa Monica resident and bike advocate. “We’re not going to solve congestion by building more parking.”

McKinnon agendized the topic specifically to get the ball rolling on such a free-wheeling discussion that might ultimately result in a well-rounded proposal that satisfied most, if not all, Santa Monicans.

Such a policy might act as a counterweight to a set of guidelines put forward by a controversial consultant who advocated that City Hall reduce the amount of parking needed for future development as a way of reducing traffic and congestion in Santa Monica.

That didn’t go over well with residents, who accused the consultant, Jeffrey Tumlin of Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates, of trying to experiment on Santa Monica.

City Hall later cut ties with Tumlin after comments in a two-year-old biography surfaced in which he called Santa Monicans “NIMBYs,” an often-derogatory term for people who resist change.

“The original consultant report on parking didn’t strike people as rational,” McKinnon said Thursday. “We needed to provide some sort of path forward.”

Although McKinnon’s proposal died for lack of a second, Chair Gerda Newbold picked up the ball and ran with it, asking for many of the same provisions McKinnon put forward but without the one-year deadline.

The same motion included a recommendation that the City Council establish a transportation management association.

Transportation management associations are groups of local businesses that work together to drive down the number of car trips needed by their employees and provide an institutional framework for transportation demand programs.

Those programs, which set trip reduction goals and the average number of workers allowed in a car, amongst other things, have become common pieces in contracts between City Hall and large developers.

There are no such associations in Santa Monica right now, McKinnon noted at the beginning of the meeting.

“It’s really hard to point to one that works because we don’t have that,” McKinnon said. “We have individual efforts, but no area-wide transportation demand organizations to say what works and what didn’t work.”

The association suggestion will have to go to the City Council for approval.

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