The end of the I-10 freeway might be named after Santa Monica, but the roadway isn’t that popular among the current crop of elected officials.
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the freeway was described as a scar on the city that had sundered Santa Monica in two and set Downtown adrift from the nearby Civic Center. To heal this wound, City Hall has an ambitious plan to redevelop several properties adjacent to the freeway and Council took some very preliminary steps towards that goal on Oct. 27 with a discussion of the city owned property located at the corner of 4th and Colorado.
The property discussed Tuesday includes a city owned lot of 86,250 square feet, a city controlled right of way on palm court of 16,300 square feet, the private offices on 5th Street of 21,700 square feet and the 4th street off ramp/embankment of 22,100 square feet. The Daily Press rents office space in one of the buildings at 1640 5th St.
The site is one of four covered under the upcoming Gateway Access Master Plan (GAMP) including the current Big Blue Bus headquarters on 7th/Colorado, the Sears building and the Wyndham Hotel property.
While work on the GAMP won’t begin until 2016, several factors are coming to fruition this year that have required staff to begin work on potential uses for the 4th/Colorado site and Tuesday’s meeting was an opportunity for Council to weigh in on some guiding principles for the location.
Construction of the Expo station adjacent to the city property and ongoing plans to realign the freeway off-ramp have prompted staff to complete some technical studies of the property and with the some feedback from council, the work related to the 4th/Colorado site will serve as the technological underpinnings for the Gateway Access Master Plan at large.
The Council was given three concepts Tuesday. First a “sooner than later” development of only the city owned lot. Any potential construction would have frontage on 4th and 5th streets but would not include the private land or the freeway.
The second option included realignment of the freeway and development of the city lot. Under option 2, the private buildings would be able to redevelop to accommodate the new streetscape but would do so independently of the larger project.
The final option was a comprehensive project including a public private partnership for redeveloping the entire area including private land, city land and the freeway.
Support for the third option was unanimous among those present at the meeting.
“We originally purchased the building with the intent of making some upgrades and continuing to operate it as an office building but we agree that it should ultimately be redeveloped in conjunction with the city owned site in order to accomplish the key objectives of the LUCE and the Downtown Specific Plan,” said Scott Schonfeld, owner of the building located at 1640 5th St.
The council was also asked for their input on the site based on prioritizing a place for people, improving circulation, establishing land use options and deciding the role of the Big Blue Bus in the project.
Council coalesced around a group of concepts for the site including prioritization of a new freeway exit that would rise up and over the I-10 to drop drivers opposite the newly constructed Olympic Dr. The “flyover” would provide opportunities to cap some section of the freeway, thereby increasing available open space and would also provide an opportunity to encourage drivers to park outside the downtown core as a means of decreasing congestion.
“I think a lot of people might appreciate that approach to parking rather then having to drive into downtown to park if they are coming from other places,” said Councilwoman Himmelrich.
Any work involving the freeway would require cooperation by Caltrans and council said it was important to keep those discussions active because momentum can be quickly lost as a project like the GAMP requires significant pre-planning.
Council also wanted to study several topics such as traffic patterns into and out of the property, linking the freeway exit to a parking garage, potential office space near transit hubs, establishing a bus pattern on the perimeter of the property, and creating a planning/development process that is inclusive of community concerns.
Several councilmembers said there should be a robust process for public input into the site and described a system that would first establish the community’s desires for the property before beginning any design work.
“We are all in agreement that the planning process for this has to be different than we’ve done it before,” said Himmelrich.
The council agreed with a Planning Commission recommendation that any plans for the site should be pedestrian focused and uses like a bus depot should be a low priority, if not outright eliminated to facilitate a more creative and ultimately useful project.
“People are pretty used to the idea of walking a block or two to pick up a bus,” said Councilman Winterer.
Councilwoman Gleam Davis said the presence of the Expo station adjacent to the property is important but shouldn’t overwhelm other ideas for the space.
“When we think about how we want to plan this site and by that I mean I think the idea of people first is really important,” she said. “We need to not think of this as ‘oh, it’s a transit terminus,’ this is not Union Station downtown. This is a place where people are going to gather that happens to have a transit terminus in it and that transit terminus will bring people to it but it can’t be a transit oriented site per se it needs to be a people oriented site.”
The discussion Tuesday night was a study session and no formal decisions were made. Staff and the council reiterated they are still gathering ideas with the goal of beginning to formalize some guidance with the start of the GAMP process next year.
“This is a work in progress,” said City Manager Rick Cole. “By no means are we going to try to move anything forward ahead of that comprehensive look so please understand this is more brainstorming than a city float up. We’re giving you some examples of the kind of context that could ultimately be part of this larger plan but given the comprehensive approach we’re taking, tonight we’re not trying to shotgun any final decisions.”