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By Michael Feinstein. Inside/Outside. February 23, 2015

The bright light of Tongva Park shines upon the surrounding area to become more alive.

That means it’s time to finally cap the I-10 freeway between Ocean Avenue and 4th Street, and create new public spaces on top, like we envisioned in the City’s 1997 Open Space Element.

What if we also turn the landmarked Sears building into an amazing “world-class” cultural facility? Then, where the Sears parking is today, together with the freeway cap, we create incredible public plazas, walkways, green spaces and complementary low scale restaurant/retail — and mix in the long-awaited City services building for a civic component as well?

All of this would be across the street from the Expo light rail station at 4th Street and Colorado Avenue, meaning we can create a public-transit oriented destination public/cultural/green space, that enriches us socially and stimulates us economically, without the usual strains of development — and we knit together major parts of the city in the process.

This possibility is before us now, if we seek to pursue it. With the Council taking up interim use of the City-owned property at 4th/Colorado south of the Expo station, it’s time to give staff visionary direction on its long-term use as well. That direction should include planning for more than just the city-owned property and adjacent parcels east of 4th Street, but also the entire corridor between Ocean and 4th, and Colorado and the Civic Center.

For long-term circulation and parking near the Expo station, it makes most sense to plan both sides of 4th Street together, so we can ensure automobile ingress/egress with the least congestion — and to also promote greater pedestrian orientation in the area. For example, we want the curb cut to go away that currently enters the Sears parking lot from Colorado Avenue, because of the future conflict it would create with the thousands of people walking down the Colorado Esplanade from the Expo station. That means parking for future development in/around Sears is best addressed on the east side of 4th Street, with exiting back onto 4th possibly best from the west.

The broader eco/walking concept for this area is creating parking next to the freeway as a tool for people to exit, park and walk into downtown — instead of driving there to look for parking. That means that the long-term design of the space south of the Expo station needs to invite pedestrians to enter our city and walk ahead.

In play as part of this is a 4th/5th off-ramp realignment approach — which has Caltrans’ interest — that would realign the existing 4th Street off-ramp lanes southward to connect to Olympic Boulevard at 4th. The space vacated where the existing 4th Street-bound lanes are could then be added to plan the area, giving us incredible design flexibility for a mostly underground parking structure with a great public space on top, with the potential for amazing views to the west — towards Sears, Tongva Park and the ocean. We would also plan the bus, shuttle and kiss-and-ride functionality to connect to Expo, likely located conveniently under the plaza as well.

If the Council takes this direction now, it will positively affect critical planning choices made in the area, with implications for decades. How the Sears and Wyndham Hotel sites develop will be influenced strongly by this City direction. But its also critical to take advantage of a newfound receptivity within the highest levels of Caltrans in working with Santa Monica on innovative freeway adaptations, beginning with the 4th/5th off-ramp realignment, and leading to the full freeway cap between Ocean and 4th.

With so many things on Santa Monica’s planning plate, and with so many moving pieces, how could this planing process move ahead?

This opportunity requires unprecedented coordination between the city and other stakeholders, including Caltrans, Big Blue Bus and private property owners adjacent to the City-owned site, as well as Sears and the Felcor Corporation (which owns the Wyndham Hotel) — and could even involve Santa Monica Place (more on that tomorrow).

Therefore we need to launch a comprehensive planning process that involves internal and external planning studies and extensive community outreach. But we also need a efficient process so we can bring these opportunities to reality in the near future, and not in 20 years.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Council should give staff specific direction to move forward with the proposed interim plan, but also focus on the long-term plan, which may include issuing an RFQ (Request for Qualifications), so we can pick a partner who can work in conjunction with the city and other stakeholders to start the planning and outreach processes.

And what would we call this planning process? I say call it “Planning the Arcadia Corridor,” after Arcadia Bandini Stearns, Santa Monica co-founder, whose namesake hotel was at the foot of the beach just west of this area. The magical Arcadia Hotel was a great draw to Santa Monica in the late 19th century. A new visionary Arcadia Corridor could create the magic of tomorrow.

Two part series:

Planning the ‘Arcadia Corridor, February 23, 2015
Seeing Sears and Loma Santa Monica, February 24, 2015

Michael Feinstein is a former Santa Monica Mayor (2000-2002) and City Councilmember (1996-2004). He can be reached via Twitter @mikefeinstein

Inside/Outside‘ is a periodic column about civic affairs Feinstein writes for the Daily Press, that takes advantage of his experience inside and outside of government.




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