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Parking Negotiations in Santa Monica, Then and Now

April 26, 2011

Dear Editor,

On Wednesday, April 27, the Planning Commission will be considering an amendment to the Development Agreement for the Yahoo Center. The proposal is to allow the Center to lease unused parking spaces in its underground garage to off-site parties.

I accept my share of responsibility for the large number of unused parking spaces there.

In the mid-1980s, we founded the original Mid-City Neighbors in response to the wave of commercial developments in the area. To promote the city's economy, the LUCE (Land Use and Circulation Element of the General Plan) at the time designated the low-rise commercial and light industrial area as the Special Office District. These projects led to the anti-development movement that continues today. (The current LUCE has taken the same approach in the area just to the east - the Mixed-Use Creative Office District - although we've hopefully learned many lessons since then.)

The developers of what was then called Colorado Place had prepared a parking study calling for less than the required number of parking spaces based upon a shared parking analysis. The city agreed with the study. The neighbors distrusted this study and became concerned that if the number of spaces was reduced, the project's tenants and visitors would park in the neighborhood. We were also concerned, of course, about the traffic impacts.

I chaired a neighborhood committee that in contentious and dramatic negotiations, hammered out an agreement in the city manager's office during the Planning Commission hearing. Among other things, it required the present number of parking spaces and provided free parking to all employees of the tenants and visitors. Some money was also committed that was later used to mitigate traffic in the area - like reducing traffic lanes, adding stop signs, medians and bike lanes in the residential portions of the area.

Colorado Place was the first of the big office projects. We later realized that free parking is counter-productive to reducing traffic (it encourages employees to use their cars instead of ride sharing and alternative transport) and subsequent projects were allowed to charge. The staff report mentions that much of the surrounding neighborhood has permit parking to protect it from project tenants and visitors, but most of us have to pay for those permits for that protection. (Some neighbors within a block of Yahoo Center have told me that they don't pay for their permits. We did negotiate a clause in the Water Gardens Development Agreement that would protect the neighbors from overflow parking and perhaps that is where the free permits originate.)

I don't know if the numbers in the owner's study are reasonable, but I do know that many spaces in Yahoo Center are unused or leased out, so the amendment seems reasonable - especially because it requires leased spaces to be returned to tenant uses when necessary. The TDM (Transportation Demand Management) requirement to cut down car trips is also a positive addition. The amendment also allows the ending of free parking for the tenants' employees.

The notification for the hearing was sent to the required 500' radius. This is another clear example of the need to increase the radius requirement for large projects.

One final note, the DA provides the park (at 26th & Broadway). It is one of the nicest parks in the city. Under the terms of the DA, it is privately maintained but open to the public under the same rules as all other city parks. Unfortunately, it is under utilized and not even mentioned in the city's parks list. The drought-resistant landscaping is now in full Spring bloom. Stop by and enjoy it!

Paul Rosenstein
Former Mayor
Santa Monica, California

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