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Plan to Cap Santa Monica Freeway with a Park Moves to the Fore

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

January 8, 2018 -- A decade ago, City planners worried that former Mayor Michael Feinstein's proposal to cap the Santa Monica Freeway was a “crazy idea.”

But the concept, first floated nearly 20 years ago, to link the city’s downtown and Civic Center with a park perched atop a massive deck is poised to move forward as officials prioritize their no-longer stalled development pipeline.

The Gateway Master Plan is set to head into the process in the first quarter of this year, according to a report from the City Department of Planning and Community Development.

Map of freeway capping site
Aerial view of 10 freeway section proposed for capping by
extending the McClure Tunnel to 4th Street (Image courtesy City of Santa Monica)

The department’s list of recommended priorities, which also includes some of the most hotly contested building projects in recent years, goes to the City Council for action at its Tuesday meeting.

The session starts at 5:30 p.m. and is in council chambers in City Hall, at 1685 Main Street.

City documents describe the Gateway Master Plan as an “effort that will address comprehensive planning for the area adjacent to the I-10 Freeway that links Downtown to the Civic Center and Samohi.

“There is a unique opportunity for strengthening connections over the freeway right of way,” the report said.

The plan would “seamlessly link the historic Downtown and historic Civic Center, removing a visual and physical divide,” it said.

Among the other benefits listed is allowing for “better freeway entry and exiting in the often-congested traffic bottlenecks” and creating a “beautiful new park and park life through new public open spaces,” staff wrote.

The plan also provides access to “peripheral parking opportunities that could reduce vehicular impacts on the Downtown core.”

Development of the plan will include input from the community, land owners and decision-makers, staff said.

"This key location should become an experience that reflects the city’s values of community, sustainability and pride of place,” the report said.

The idea off capping the freeway was floated by Feinstein shortly after he joined the Council in 1996. The concept called for a 4,000- to 5,500-square-foot stretch of grass he said would reduce noise and pollution and add green space.

In 2010, City officials studied the possibility and determined that -- with construction costs coming in at an estimated $500 a square foot -- the project would be prohibitively expensive to undertake without some outside funding source.

Instead, City staff explored widening the bridges at 14th and 17th Streets as a cheaper alternative to capping the freeway ("Santa Monica Launches Latest Neighborhood Plan," October 14, 2013).

In 2014, Feinstein revived the concept as a cornerstone of his unsuccessful campaign to regain the council seat he had lost in 2004 ("Former Mayor Announces City Council Bid," June 18, 2014).

“If we dream big enough, and we think in a visionary manner, we can turn water into wine,” Feinstein said in announcing his council bid. “We will do that again in this city, and the next time for us to do it is to cover" the freeway with parkland.

In Los Angeles, a plan to build a park over a section of the 101 freeway through downtown is included in the city's Union Station Master Plan and the Downtown LA Community Plan update.

Also up on deck for Santa Monica are two projects that helped spark a battle with the city’s slow-growth camp.

Developers will re-submit new plans for the renovation of the Fairmont-Miramar Hotel in the first quarter of the year, the report said.

Its most recent version doubled the size of the hotel and reached higher than 20 floors. The City’s Downtown Community Plan (DCP), approved in July, prohibits such heights. The report says the new Miramar plan will not be taller than 130 feet, as the DCP requires.

Frank Gehry’s Ocean Avenue Project -- another large mixed-use hotel that is being proposed at half its original height -- is headed for a 7 p.m. community meeting January 11 at the Santa Monica Main Library, 601 Santa Monica Boulevard ("Frank Gehry Mixed-Use Hotel for Downtown Santa Monica on Front-Burner Again," December 22, 2017).

Also at the top of the list is the Pico Neighborhood Plan, with community outreach starting early this year, and the Local Coastal Plan update, which goes to the public in draft form early this year.


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