City Council agreed to the direction of two large, expensive, and necessary but unexciting projects Tuesday night.

City Yards, which houses way more of the machines and workers that keep the city running than ever intended, is moving toward a $115 million, 15-phase makeover.

Additionally, City Hall could get a three-story, $56.4 million extension in its backyard to avoid paying millions each year in rent for employee office space.

Both projects are still in the planning phases, but council approved — if reluctantly in some cases — city officials’ ideas for each.

The City Services Building, as it’s being called, would abut City Hall, wedging between it and the police headquarters. Taxpayers are currently dropping about $2 million every year to house city employees in rented buildings throughout the city.

Because City Hall was granted Landmark status in 1979, the Landmarks Commission will have to review how the new building would impact it.

Frederick Fisher, who was brought on create a cohesive interaction between the new building and historical City Hall, noted that — while the new building has not yet been designed — it would be a “simple, neutral hyphen that would essentially play off the differing character of each one rather than entering a new strongly characterized building into the mix.”

Councilmember Ted Winterer said that the hiring of Fisher gave him “great comfort,” lauding the work his did on the restoration of the historical Annenberg Community Beach House.

The new building would be shorter than the front of City Hall — though it could be slightly taller than the back — and therefore not visible from Main Street.

The project, as it stands, would necessitate the demolition of a station bay formerly used by the Fire Department that’s connected to the back of City Hall.

Consultants noted that it did not function as a fire station for a very long time and that it has since been compromised to integrate with the current functions of City Hall. The demolition of the fire bay would still leave Santa Monica “with a very substantial Landmark,” consultants said.

City architect Miriam Mulder noted that the Landmarks Commission, which has been briefed on the project plans in the past, expressed support for this approach.

Councilmember Sue Himmelrich asked why they shouldn’t build the new offices at City Yards.

City officials, noting that City Yards is already over-jammed with workers, said that the City Hall extension is planned as a one-stop resource for residents.

“Looks like a pretty happy council,” Mayor Kevin McKeown said before a unanimous five-member vote.

“Happy’s stretching, but yes,” Winterer said smiling as he gave his affirmative vote.

CITY YARDS

Council is angling toward a $115 million reboot of the City Yards, with initial phases costing $38 million.

When City Hall took ownership of the 14.7-acre property on Michigan Avenue near 24th Street in the 1940s, it was a small part of the civic framework.

Currently, it houses facilities maintenance, custodial services, street maintenance, fleet maintenance, traffic operations, resource recovery and recycling, water and wastewater operations, hazardous waste storage and a Fire Department training area.

The project would involve tearing down a few buildings at a time and reconstructing others to ensure that the work never stops.

Parts of the property served previously as a landfill, though mostly of relatively benign refuse, city officials said.

Himmelrich asked city officials about the decision to use the “incredibly valuable real estate,” which is near a station of the incoming Expo Light Rail, for these civic purposes.

“Why are we putting basically a public works yard within a quarter mile of the Metro stop, when, if we remediated this property, it could be so incredibly valuable to us?” she asked.

City Manager Rod Gould explained that the jobs performed at City Yards are indispensable and that Santa Monica is out of other spaces.

“So if you are suggesting reusing this property for some higher use, then you need to be thinking about what is the alternate location for 15 acres of heavy industrial use somewhere in Santa Monica,” he said. “I think the simple answer to that is: We can’t think of any. And even if you could begin to imagine somewhere in Santa Monica where you could wedge in 15 acres of this heavy use, we think that the community opposition would be overwhelming.”

Many of the new City Yards buildings will be multi-story but Winterer asked city officials to consider stacking uses wherever feasible to allow for more open space in the area.

“I guess there’s not tremendous enthusiasm at this point for this plan,” McKeown said, asking for a motion from his colleagues, “but as has been noted there are only four of us here tonight and either we’re going to move something forward or we’re not.”

The plan moved forward unanimously. Councilmember Gleam Davis was absent from the meeting. Councilmember Pam O’Connor left before either of the civic projects came up for a vote. Councilmember Terry O’Day left before the City Yards Master Plan came up for a vote.

dave@www.smdp.com

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