Photo by Ross Furukawa

Although the city of Santa Monica is delaying, scaling back or canceling $40.4 million in capital projects through next June as municipal revenues dry up during the coronavirus shutdown, several major projects that predate the crisis are finished or nearing completion.

The city will cut its budget for capital improvement projects by 75%, eliminating or suspending projects that were in the bidding process, said city spokesperson Constance Farrell. Projects that will continue are either funded through grants or self-sustaining funds separate from the city’s general fund, which is projected to see a shortfall of $72 million this fiscal year and an additional gap of $154 million next fiscal year due to a steep drop in sales, hotel and parking tax revenues.

Some projects were slated to open soon, but ribbon-cutting ceremonies have been postponed indefinitely due to stay-at-home orders.

City Hall East, also known as the City Services Building, has been under construction since fall 2017 and was supposed to open on Earth Day. The $76.8 million addition to City Hall is complete, Farrell said.

When the three-story, 50,000-square-foot building opens, it will house 240 city employees in departments such as planning, traffic management and cultural affairs who currently work in leased offices elsewhere in downtown Santa Monica. The city’s permit counter will also move from City Hall to the ground floor of the new building.

At $1,529 per square foot, City Hall East is substantially more expensive per square foot than comparable municipal projects.

The city of Long Beach completed its new civic center last year, which cost $553 million in total and $884 per square foot.

Orange County is building a new county headquarters in Santa Ana, which is projected to cost $198 million or $779 per square foot. The budget for the project also includes another $195 million to pay off bonds issued to fund construction.

Santa Monica’s City Hall East, which will be financed by 30-year lease revenue bonds, is projected to pay for itself by 2047.

City Hall East will eliminate the need to lease office space for city employees, which was expected to increase from $2.5 million to $30 million annually over the next 30 years, according to a 2017 report.

Lauded as the most sustainable municipal building in the United States, City Hall East will produce its own energy and water, saving hundreds of millions of dollars in utilities costs over its 100-year lifespan.

As part of the City Hall East project, City Council in January authorized $8 million in improvements to City Hall. The 1939 building was set to receive upgraded heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, a new roof, and new staff workstations and meeting space.

But because of the budget crisis, the city will only upgrade City Hall to meet modern building codes and make minor improvements to facilitate staff moving into City Hall from leased offices, Farrell said.

She said officials are also evaluating how to support physical distancing and other protective measures in the City Hall complex and other public facilities as the city resumes in-person services in the months ahead.

Two other projects are nearly complete.

Construction on the Civic Center Multipurpose Sports Field is coming to an end. The field was slated to open this summer and will open in accordance with public health guidance, Farrell said.

The $8.6 million field replaces 3.8 acres of the Civic Center parking lot and will provide space for residents of all ages to play soccer, rugby and lacrosse. City Council voted to turn the parking lot into a field in June 2018 after more than a decade of lobbying by local families, who argued that Santa Monica High School lacked space for outdoor sports.

Fire Station 1, a $41.2 million facility at 1337 7th St. in downtown Santa Monica, is almost finished. The 28,000-square-foot fire station replaces a seismically unsafe building constructed in the 1950s and will contain dormitories, offices, a community room, and space to house fire engines and equipment.

Construction is underway on City Yards and the Sustainable Water Improvement Project, or SWIP.

Farrell said the city is completing a facilities building under construction at City Yards and suspending all other construction on the $115 million renovation to City Yards in light of the budget gap.

The first phase of City Yards was slated to be completed in 2023, with an additional two phases of construction that would conclude by 2030.

SWIP, a $92.5 million water recycling system that will meet 12% of the city’s water demand when it is completed in 2022, will continue as planned, Farrell said. The project is funded through the city’s water and wastewater funds, which have not suffered a significant drop in revenues.

The system is projected to save the city money in the long term because it will allow the city to stop importing water by 2023. The water the city buys from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is more expensive per unit than water produced locally.

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