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Planning Commission Wants Stricter Rules for Yahoo! Center Parking Leases  

By Gene Williams
Lookout Staff

May 23, 2011 -- Owners of the Yahoo! Center should do more to promote ridesharing and reduce traffic if they want to continue leasing their excess parking spaces to off-site businesses, the Planning Commission said last week.

The commission’s action Wednesday night came in the form of a recommendation to the City Council, which will consider in June whether to amend a 1981 development agreement for the one-million square foot business park on Colorado Avenue.

The proposed amendment – which is supported by City staff and the center’s owners, Equity Office Properties (EOP) – would require EOP to institute a campus-wide Transportation Demand Management (TDM) program in exchange for being allowed to continue a long-standing but recently-contested practice of leasing surplus parking space to neighboring companies.

While the commissioners agreed with the general intent of the proposed amendment, they said it doesn’t go far enough and called for stricter monitoring and enforcement.

“We would like to have a TDM program that is commensurate with the kind of benefit being granted to the property owner here,” Commissioner Jason Parry said.

After weighing the subject for nearly three hours, the commission voted unanimously to recommend that the council not approve the amendment unless EOP comes up with more information and numbers.

Specifically, the commissioners want EOP to provide documentation of parking taxes paid to the City, a study of the Average Vehicle Ridership (AVR) of cars presently coming to the site, a report of revenue the company gets from leasing parking to off-site entities and an analysis of that income versus the expected cost of the TDM program and community benefits.

In addition, the proposed amendment’s target of achieving a 1.5 AVR (a goal of one-and-a-half vehicle occupants for every car entering the site) might be too low, the commissioners said. Perhaps the AVR should be set higher and raised over time, they said.

The commissioners also want the center’s TDM program extended to include the off-site lessees of the center’s parking and said that annual TDM reports should include community meetings to allow neighbors to weigh in on traffic and parking conditions in the area.

To ensure enforcement, the amendment should include provisions for the City to impose penalties if EOP doesn’t abide by the agreement, the commissioners said.

Yahoo! Center -- a 15-acre campus with parking for 3,000 cars -- presently leases about 1,000 parking spaces to neighboring companies including St. John’s Health Center and local auto dealerships.

The practice went largely unnoticed for a decade, until early this year after the City conducted a compliance review of properties built under development agreements in Santa Monica.

The report that followed led to a controversy that has put local businesses and mid-city residents on opposite sides.

At the heart of the controversy is St. John’s Health Center, which residents have long blamed for traffic and parking problems in the area.

St. John’s is seeking an amendment to its own development agreement to avoid building a 440-car parking garage required by the City as part of the hospital’s reconstruction plans after the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

St. John’s wants to delay building the garage for ten years saying it’s not needed because the hospital rents some 450 parking spaces at the Yahoo! Center.

Residents counter that the hospital should be held to the agreement, and they oppose Yahoo! Center’s proposed amendment which they see as a stepping stone for the hospital to walk away from its obligation to the City.

Both sides in the argument cite the City’s recent Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) update to support their positions.

Opponents of St, John’s and Yahoo! Center say development agreements are an integral tool for protecting neighborhoods under the LUCE. They argue that LUCE standards can’t be enforced if property owners are allowed to wiggle out of their promises.

During public comment Wednesday, Catherine Eldridge, a Santa Monica resident, said Yahoo! Center’s parking leases are a violation of its development agreement (DA) and that EOP has failed in its obligation to provide community benefits.

“At the heart of the LUCE is the sanctity of the DA agreement,” Eldridge said. “If we do not seek to enforce this particular contract violation, how can we as a city expect to enforce any future contract violations, and how can the public have any faith in the City and the LUCE promises made?”

Earlier in the evening, however, Dale Goldsmith, an attorney for EOP, said the proposed amendment is “consistent with the sustainability goals of LUCE” which explicitly calls for shared parking and TDM programs.

“To allow these spaces to remain fallow” would require building unnecessary parking elsewhere, Goldsmith said.

City officials generally acknowledge that the City required too much parking at the Yahoo! Center site when the complex was built as the Colorado Center in the early 1980s.

Since then, the prevailing wisdom among urban planners has shifted away from creating abundant parking to managing parking resources more carefully in order to promote alternate modes of transit and reduce congestion.

The City Council is scheduled to consider the Yahoo! Center amendment June 14. A proposal to amend St. John’s development agreement is expected to come before the council in the near future.

Commissioner Hank Koning was absent during Wednesday’s meeting.

Commissioner Gwynne Pugh also did not participate in Wednesday’s meeting after announcing earlier that evening that he is no longer a member of the commission. ("Pugh Leaves Planning Commision," May 20, 2011)


“We would like to have a TDM program that is commensurate with the kind of benefit being granted to the property owner here.” Jason Parry

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