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Commission Approves Santa Monica City Hall Addition, but with Dissenters
Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
Roque & Mark Real Estate
2802 Santa Monica Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90404
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Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

November 22, 2016 -- Enough planning commissioners supported the proposed 50,000-square-foot addition to Santa Monica City Hall last Wednesday to approve the project. But there were plenty of critics on the dais.

The addition, which requires City Council approval of a Civic Center Specific Plan amendment for finalization, is proposed as an unattached wing located between City Hall and the public safety building.

The design calls for three stories and a basement.

Rendering of proposed addition to City Hall
Proposed City Services Building (Rendering courtesy of Frederick Fisher Partners Architect)

A staff report describes the planned building, estimated to cost $85 million, as "rectangular in shape [and] designed in a modern/contemporary style consisting of glass facades on all four sides of the building." A nearly 7,000-square-foot interior courtyard is planned.

Municipal officials say the addition is needed to end the policy of renting space to house some staff -- a policy that is costly and forces people needing City services or doing work with officials to hop around to different locations.

The building is expected to meet the highest of environmental standards called the Living Building Challenge. Only 11 structures in the world have met this threshold, according to City staff.

"On balance, and always on balance is what we do here, this is a step forward and it’s a beneficial building to the city," said Commissioner Richard McKinnon. "And under those circumstances, we should vote to support it this evening."

McKinnon voted in favor along with three other commissioners.

Commissioner Leslie Lambert abstained, and the dissenters were Nina Fresco and Jennifer Kennedy. Among Fresco's objections was the structure's size, even though it had been reduced from earlier versions.

"I feel this building is not going to set a great example for how we want to do this," Fresco said. "We want buildings that accommodate solar in a way that's sensitive to our environment and our landscapes and our historic landmarks."

A former landmarks commissioner, Fresco had a problem with how the project would deal with City Hall as a landmark, which it has been since 1979. A rear portion of the building will be removed.

Responding to Fresco's objections, John LoCascio, historic resources consultant on the project, told her extra care had been taken to minimize damage to the building.

"They are original features; they are historic," he said of the portion of City Hall planned for removal. "But they're not largely contributing to the overall character and significance of the building."

There is a rush to get the project through the approval process to avoid some new building code requirements that go into effect next year.

Fresco also objected to this as "not setting a good example."

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