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Santa Monica's Esplanade Gets Green Light

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark


Rusty's Surf

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

May 20, 2013 -- A $10.7 million plan to revamp Colorado Avenue west of Fifth Street to accommodate passengers at the future Expo Light Rail line terminal got the unanimous approval of the City Council last week.

The Colorado Esplanade plan widens sidewalks, removes eastbound car traffic and adds a two-way cycle track in preparation for the Expo line, which is expected to start bringing passengers to Fifth Street and Colorado Avenue in 2016.

“The light rail station is going to transform this area,” Principal Planner Sarah Lejeune told the Council Tuesday night. “We're connecting the station, Santa Monica Place and the Civic Center parks and the Village -- these major investments -- with the Esplanade.”

While comments from the Council members were overwhelmingly positive Tuesday night, several wanted staff to consider making the “Gateway Triangle” -- a plot of land on the south side of Colorado Avenue where Main Street connects to Second Street -- a public gathering space instead of a garden.

“This is probably the one project that most epitomizes the new thinking we're having in Santa Monica about what our city should look like,” said Council member Kevin McKeown. “I mean, a cycle track, separated from traffic! Yes!”

He called the plans for a drought-resistant garden on the Gateway Triangle “misguided.”

“It looks to me like kids-stay-off-my-lawn planting and that bothers me,” he said of the current plan, which doesn't allow people to venture into the garden, but only walk around it.

Council member Gleam Davis agreed that the space should be designed so that visitors getting off the train would have a place to sit and plan their day exploring Santa Monica.

Davis also wanted to make sure that as more funding became available, signs directing visitors to different parts of Downtown Santa Monica could be incorporated.

Council member Bob Holbrook said he'd like planners to consider planting a monkey puzzle tree somewhere along the Esplanade.

“I remember the first time I ever saw one,” he said of the species of evergreen, which can grow 130 feet tall. “I think they are so spectacular.”

Paula Laramore, an attorney representing Felcor Lodging Trust, the owners of the Wyndham Hotel -- formerly the Holiday Inn -- at Second Street and Colorado Avenue, said her client “is very supportive of the City's vision for the Colorado Esplanade.”

Larmore pointed out that vehicles currently must use Colorado Avenue to access the hotel, an orientation that could create problems for pedestrians walking along the south side of Colorado and drivers trying to turn left into the parking area.

“Felcor is exploring the feasibility of relocating its entrance, in the context of redevelopment of the site,” she said.

As part of its motion to approve the design of the Esplanade core project -- excluding the Gateway Triangle and elements on the project's northeastern border -- the Council directed staff to redesign the Triangle.

Already, the City had to reduce its commitment to the project by half last February when legislation shut down redevelopment agencies (RDAs) throughout the State, ending a steady cash flow of millions of dollars annually that Santa Monica had come to rely on to fund affordable housing and infrastructure projects like the Esplanade.

The money in Santa Monica's General Fund earmarked for the Esplanade dropped from $10 million to $5.7 million.

As a result, planners made a number of small changes -- including eliminating some signage and using alternative materials -- in order to lower the cost of the overall project.

“There are some compromises that have been made,” said Adam Greenspan, a consultant who has worked with City on the Esplanade project. “But not in longevity, durability or overall impression.”

The revised budget brings the core project in at $10.7 million and so far, planners have secured $9.7 million of funding, including a $3.3 million Metro grant.

Staff estimates that the Gateway Triangle, as planned, would cost $850,000, but it's unclear how much that figure could change if staff needs to revise plans for the space.

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