Santa Monica will move forward with plans for an ambitious $77 million City Services Building, promising to break ground with one of the greenest structures in the United States, after the Coastal Commission approved the project Thursday.

The public facility will strive to meet the Living Building Challenge, a rigorous environmental standard for construction that few buildings in the world have achieved.

The approval came after extensive public testimony from Santa Monica leaders and activists in Chula Vista.

While the City and architect championed the building’s environmental strides, emotional opponents derided the process, expense, and potential impact the Commission’s approval could have on further projects in the pipeline, specifically a nearby athletic field that the City Council has also approved.

The Commission’s mandate is to protect access to the beach, so the debate Thursday centered on parking.

The new building will consolidate City offices within the coastal zone, increasing demand on nearby lots and structures.

The Commission also approved plans for an Early Childhood Learning Lab that will replace 230 parking spaces just blocks away. Plans for the Civic Center Field, which was approved by the City Council this summer, have not yet come before the Commission.

“The claims from opponents of inadequate Civic Center parking fell flat with the Commissioners,” City Manager Rick Cole said in a statement. “That bodes well for the future approval of the Civic Center Multi-Use Sports Field when we submit the final design being developed now. The City is committed to ensuring all three projects are constructed to benefit the residents and especially the youth of our community.”

The move to pass the projects frustrated activists who believe the Early Childhood Lab School run by Santa Monica College will give priority to parents who work nearby who aren’t necessarily Santa Monica residents.

“The ECLS is about the City of Santa Monica and Santa Monica employees getting their benefits and everyone else can get in line behind them for the Civic Center space,” said Elizabeth Vandenberg, a member of Santa Monica Transparency Project. “I support our kids…I support Samohi kids walking across the street to practice and play every day.”

The City provided parking surveys to the Commission that found many of the 1,779 public parking spaces in the area sit empty during the week and on weekends. In addition to the surplus parking, the Commission’s top official implied the city may have spaces to spare for future projects because of other initiatives.

“The city of Santa Monica is one of the few places in Southern California where you have a really robust transit system with the Expo Line and their own Big Blue Bus transit … the other point I’d like to make is that the City of Santa Monica has more parking than any other coastal city in the state,” said Executive Director Jack Ainsworth.
City manager Rick Cole told the Commission Santa Monica has 6,000 parking spaces adjacent to the beach and as many as 14,000 in the coastal zone.

“I think there are more Snowy Plovers on the Santa Monica beach than there are people who schlep their stuff from this parking lot all the way to the beach,” Cole said.

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press