That dirt pile - the one on Santa Monica Boulevard in front of St. Johns Hospital got closer to disappearing this week as both the city council and the planning commission considered amendments to the Yahoo Center and St. Johns Development Agreements.
The amendments, citing the shared parking and traffic reduction concepts presented in the LUCE (Land Use and Circulation Elements), would allow St. Johns to use a valet system to park 1053 cars at the Yahoo Center in lieu of building an underground parking garage at St. Johns.
In a way that is key to Santa Monica’s future, the vote was less about the specifics of the amendments and more about the vision for the future of Santa Monica as expressed in the LUCE. Traffic, congestion, and parking are villains in Santa Monica. How to reduce car trips and congestion, how to make it easier, and even more fun, to get around the city is a continuous theme in the LUCE – one that was demanded in the many public meetings and hearings devoted to shaping and defining the LUCE.
Developers and residents are often on opposite sides of the parking question. Developers, especially developers with large projects, and a large number of employees, need parking. Residents don’t want car congestion on local streets and they do want to be able to park on the city streets in their neighborhoods.
So what happens when the developer is a beloved community hospital? When the hospital, represented at the hearings by many doctors and nurses and hospital staff, maintains it has a better idea, one that will reduce traffic, provide adequate parking, and allow the hospital to spend the millions of dollars on taking care of patients that it would otherwise have to spend on building a garage.
What happens when the neighboring residents care about the hospital but are worried about being able to navigate and park on their own streets? What happens when the decision makers, the council and the planning commission are at the very beginning of translating the vision of the LUCE into the implementation of the LUCE in specific terms on specific projects?
We saw the beginning of this translation into implementation on June 14. The city council agenda listed the “first reading of an ordinance amending the Colorado Place Development Agreement (DA) to amend the parking demand formulae for the Yahoo Center, and permit leasing of existing, underutilized parking spaces to off-site parties.” It was the first of the two amendments necessary for the concept of shared parking to move forward.
The proposed ordinance requires maintaining sufficient parking for on-site tenants and for the establishment of a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) program to reduce both vehicle trips and the demand for parking;. two actions clearly called for in the LUCE.
The Yahoo Center was encouraged by the City to file for the DA amendment because it was seen as a way to implement the LUCE goals of shared parking and transportation demand management. Yahoo Center had more than a thousand surplus spaces. It’s easy walking from Yahoo Center to St. Johns. Requirements for a childcare center, a public park and a community room, which were in the original DA, will be ongoing.
The council approved the first reading of the ordinance on a 5-2 vote (council members Kevin McKeown and Bobby Shriver voted no). One day later, on June 15, the planning commission heard the proposed amendment to the St. Johns DA and forwarded it to the council with a 5-1 positive recommendation (commissioner Jennifer Kennedy voted no).
The St. Johns DA amendment will allow the hospital, in lieu of constructing on-site parking under its entry plaza on Santa Monica Boulevard, to build a modified entry plaza and to provide parking that is “functionally equivalent” to the previously approved subterranean garage. “Functionally equivalent” requires that for all the St. Johns visitors, patients, and physicians, the off-site parking be functionally equivalent to the previously approved subterranean garage.
Under the terms of the amended DA, St. Johns would provide valet parking at the hospital’s main entrance on Santa Monica Boulevard. Valets would park the cars at an off-site parking garage. St. Johns would also be responsible for the creation of a TDM program, specific signal and street improvements and monetary contributions to the Memorial Park Expo Station.
The planning commission added recommendations for pricing, for trees, for modifying the valet route, and for a hospital ombudsman the neighbors could rely on if they had problems in the future.
Both DA amendments need to be approved by the council if either one is to work. The LUCE expresses the vision for the city’s future. It also, hopefully, expresses the vision of the people of the city. Now it’s up the city council and the planning commission, as our city’s decision makers, to translate these ideas into enforceable specifics if we are to have both the ideas of the LUCE and a city that is easier and safer to get around whether in a car, walking or on a bike.
St. Johns has a good idea. Yahoo is a good partner. Now it is up to the city decision makers to attach conditions that will protect the neighborhoods. I think it can be done. And I will be happy when the dirt pile is replaced with a tree lined entry plaza.
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