Colorado Esplanade (Rendering courtesy city of Santa Monica)
Colorado Esplanade (Rendering courtesy city of Santa Monica)
Colorado Esplanade (Rendering courtesy city of Santa Monica)

CITY HALL — The City Council unanimously gave the green light Tuesday to a scaled-down version of a project that aims to convert the westernmost section of Colorado Avenue into the southern gateway to the Downtown and Santa Monica Pier.

The Colorado Esplanade, as it’s called, is first and foremost a street project that will make Colorado Avenue one-way between Fourth Street and Ocean Avenue to provide more space for pedestrians and bicyclists disembarking from the Exposition Light Rail line, which will end slightly east of the project.

It will also facilitate the connection of Second Street and Main Street, which now sit slightly cockeyed.

The project remains as much about beauty as it does functionality. Decorative plantings will create a lush landscape alongside mature trees that will line the streets. Renderings show strings of lights crisscrossing Colorado Avenue high above cars and pedestrians.

“This is the one project that most epitomizes what Santa Monica wants to be,” said Councilmember Kevin McKeown.

The full project is expected to cost $13.5 million, but City Hall has only $9.7 million on hand, $1 million less than the amount needed to build the stripped down version of the project.

Officials brought the total cost down to $12.7 million by swapping out less-expensive materials in the wake of the dissolution of Santa Monica’s Redevelopment Agency, an entity that funded construction projects throughout the city until the state government killed the agency in February 2012.

The agency budgeted $10 million for the project to supplement $3.3 million in grant money from the Metropolitan Transportation Agency. In June, the City Council voted to use $5.7 million from the general fund to replace redevelopment money, dropping the total budget to $9 million.

Officials feel confident that they can make up the difference, said Sarah Lejeune, principal planner with City Hall.

In the meantime, Lejeune said, officials propose building the project in phases, the first of which will cost $10.7 million and will include what they consider the core of the Esplanade — the realignment of Second and Main streets, infrastructure upgrades on Colorado Avenue between Ocean Avenue and Fourth Street and the connection between the future light rail station, the pier and the new Civic Center Parks.

On hold are areas adjacent to the station on Fourth and Fifth streets, proposed improvements to Fourth Street north of Colorado Avenue and a triangular 1,000-square-foot section bounded by Colorado Avenue and Main Street called the Gateway Triangle.

Despite the fact that the money for that area, roughly $850,000, is not yet available, the City Council spent most of its time discussing the triangle.

Council members and members of the public alike seemed concerned that the Gateway Triangle, initially conceived as a people-watching space, was proposed to be planted like a garden.

“We don’t have those kinds of assets to simply plant a garden as though it was a median or a right of way,” said former mayor Michael Feinstein, who urged the City Council to use it as a public gathering space.

Although officials argued that the garden promised a variety of open spaces in the Downtown, particularly so close to two new parks, the majority of councilmembers disagreed, calling it “too restrictive” and “overplanted.”

The final motion, put forward by McKeown, removed the garden from the conversation and approved the other phases in the plan, despite warnings from Planning Director David Martin that no money was left to redesign the space.

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