By Jorge Casuso
April 1 -- In June, when the City hosts the grand opening ceremonies
for the new Downtown Transit Mall, merchants will be relieved to put behind
them 13 months of living with torn-up streets and sidewalks, closed-off
traffic lanes, dust, dirt, noise and lost customers.
That was the price Bayside businesses were asked to pay to usher in what
City officials have called a bright new era for Downtown, when the Promenade
boom will hopefully trickle to neighboring streets as shoppers stroll
up and down the widened, tree-lined sidewalks of the newly completed Transit
But before the jackhammers and tractors fall silent and the finishing
touches are made to the $13 million project, the racket will have picked
up in pockets of Downtown and along major arteries that lead to the heart
of the City.
This time, merchants are being asked to live with much-needed repairs
to Santa Monica's earthquake-battered sewer system and seismically vulnerable
parking structures. Failing to bear the brunt of more construction could
prove economically disastrous, City officials warn.
"We are still fairly vulnerable," said F.J. Schroeder, the
engineer who is in charge of the City's Disaster Recovery Office. "The
(parking) structures are not life safety issues, but we want to make sure
they're usable and Downtown is not left with condemned structures after
an earthquake. Can you imagine what the economic impact would be on the
Downtown area if all the parking structures were shut down?
"I understand how frustrating it is," Schroeder said. "People
don't want us to construct during the summer. People don't want us to
construct during the holidays. We schedule it at a time when it's hopefully
not disruptive. To some extent it can be mitigated, but to some extent
Replacing the City's sewers around the Downtown area is slated to take
until the summer of 2003, and retrofitting work on the two Downtown parking
structures ready for seismic upgrades likely will last until August. Also
in the summer next year, crews will begin to tear down and replace the
Main Library on 6th Street and Santa Monica Boulevard.
While the new library goes up, a project to retrofit the California Avenue
incline ramp that feeds into PCH (or a possible alternate plan to relocate
the ramp to Wilshire Boulevard) could begin as early as the spring of
2004. Also that spring, the City could begin work to expand the pier ramp
at the foot of Colorado Avenue.
Bayside officials say they understand the need for the improvements and
upgrades. But they still are worried and frustrated enough with what they
see as the City's lack of notice and mitigation to fire off a pointed
letter in February to City Manager Susan McCarthy calling traffic and
congestion Downtown "unbearable" and outlining a series of complaints.
"The Board understands the importance of moving the construction
along quickly, but the overall impact of all city projects in the area
must be considered when scheduling them," Bayside District Executive
Director Kathleen Rawson wrote in the letter dated Feb 4.
"Traffic and congestion are unbearable. The City has done very little
to communicate with our drivers about what to expect and alternative routes
Signage is poor and must be improved immediately."
City officials said they have worked with Bayside representatives and
"bent over backwards" to address the concerns. The City has
taken extraordinary measures to mitigate the impacts of construction,
said spokeswoman Judy Rambeau.
The measures include placing directional signage and an electronic message
board at the freeway exit, encouraging motorists to take 5th instead of
4th Street into Downtown.
The City also has hung banners on freeway overpasses, posted signs directing
motorists to public parking structures, explained the project on street
signs and in a full page ad in the Los Angeles Times, launched a parking
site on the City's Web site and provided a hotline, Rambeau said.
Construction crews have taken unusual steps to ensure that their work
does not block access to building entrances during business hours.
"We have maintained every business open, and we have bent over backwards
to make sure their customers have had full access," Rambeau said.
"We've done everything we can think of."
Still, merchants report losing 30 percent of their business when construction
takes place at their doorstep, Rawson said. And they worry that all of
Downtown is feeling the crunch as customers increasingly avoid navigating
the district's torn-up streets, where lanes have been eliminated and outlawed
left turns require taking a circuitous route to reach a bypassed destination.
"The concern is that we've created too many obstacles to get Downtown,"
Rawson said. "People will continue to avoid it, and we suffered so
much we just have to make sure that doesn't happen. People can't wait
for the construction to be done. They've had it."
Before the City holds grand opening ceremonies for the $13 million Transit
Mall on June 22, construction crews will begin retrofitting work on the
ramps in Parking Structure 8 at 2nd Street and Colorado Avenue.
The work, which is scheduled to start this month and end in November,
will shut down one of the two northbound lanes while work is done on the
sidewalk, Schroeder said.
"There won't be construction on Colorado, but there will have to
be cranes," Schroeder said.
The entrance and exit will be fully accessible during the day, although
several of the parking levels will be shut down during the work, which
involves drilling and pouring new pile foundations below grade and reinforcing
the structural steel around the perimeter of the slabs above grade.
"The entrance and exit work will be done at night with full access
during the day," Schroeder said.
After a pause during the holidays, similar work will begin in January
on Parking Structure 7 on Fourth Street and Broadway. The work should
be completed by August 2003.
While the Downtown Parking Task Force -- comprised of members of the City
Council, the Planning Commission and the Bayside board --plans what to
do with the other six structures (where retrofitting work is less pressing)
several projects, including some outside the district's limits, could
continue to make it unpleasant, if not difficult, to get Downtown.
The massive $78 million project to replace 80 percent of the City's sewer
system is nearing an end after six years of construction, and most of
the work within the district's borders has been completed.
Still, once work on the PCH sewers and the Moss Avenue Sewage Pumping
Substation wraps up next month, work will continue on Olympic Boulevard
through June and begin in July along Lincoln Boulevard and no earlier
than September along Main Street and Ocean Avenue.
The project along Lincoln (which will stretch from Pico Boulevard to the
south city limit) will take a year to complete and will require open trenching
to replace the earthquake-damaged pipes.
The Main Street and Ocean Avenue project, which will start at 2nd Street
and Colorado Avenue, involves lining sewers and replacing manholes, work
that does not require digging up stretches of street.
City officials have pushed back the July start date for the Main Street
and Ocean Avenue project and are contemplating a schedule that will have
the least impact on Downtown and Main Street merchants.
"The City is working hard to get it done in the least disruptive
way possible," Rambeau said. "We want it to be done fast."
As with most construction projects, much of the work will be done during
the summer in order to avoid wet winter weather, with a hiatus during
the holidays, Schroeder said, adding that delays due to weather are costly.
After six years in the works, the federally funded sewer project --expected
to wrap up in September 2003 --is likely the most ambitious public works
project in City history.
"This (the sewer system) was built by someone a long time ago, long
before you and I were born," said Tony Antich, the City engineer
in charge of public construction projects.
"It will be all brand new, and it will last for a long time, longer
than you and I are alive." Plus, "A lot of the streets won't
have to be torn up," he added.
Another ambitious project Downtown will be the construction of a new $49.5
million main library to replace the 30-year-old structure, which will
be torn down. Work on the new two-story, 104,000-square-foot library is
slated to get underway in the summer of 2003, Antich said.
Other major projects that could hamper traffic flow into Downtown also
are looming on the horizon. The City is currently drafting together environmental
impact reports for the California incline and the pier bridge, which will
be seismically strengthened and widened and may be fitted with a ramp
to access the parking lot north of the pier.
If all goes according to schedule, work could begin on both projects
in spring 2004.
"We're still studying to see the merit of doing it all at once,"
Antich said. "If we could finish everything at once it would be nice."