It's shocking Montana Avenue merchants and residents: Santa Monica's quainter, upscale shopping destination is classified a "transit oriented district" in a new draft plan to manage parking across the city.
The plan calls for a big reduction in the amount of parking future developers would have to build, and in "transit oriented districts," such as on Montana Avenue and Santa Monica and Wilshre boulevards, the requirements would be scaled back the most.
A consultant hired by the city to prepare the plan, part of a much broader update to the city's zoning code, said the goal is to drive people out of their cars and onto their feet, public transit and bikes.
The solution to Santa Monica's parking problems is not to build more parking, consultant Jeffrey Tumlin said, but to make better use of the spaces that already exist.
"The more parking we supply, the more traffic that is created," said Tumlin, who works for the transportation planning firm Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates. "It's important that we do not provide too much parking."
But based on reactions from some community leaders present at Wednesday night's Planning Commission meeting, that could be a hard sale. Not only are some residents skeptical the tack would actually work, they also believe it's a boon to the developers. (Parking is expensive to build; estimates have ranged between $18,000 and $75,000 per space).
"We are not poised to sell our cars and rely on transit in Santa Monica, and we won’t be for some time," said Tricia Crane, chairwoman of one of the local neighborhood groups, Northeast Neighbors.
That Montana is designated "transit oriented" is "ridiculous," Crane said.
The classification would apply to the boutique-lined avenue between Sixth and 17th streets. The plan gives the same designation to most other major streets, including: Wilshire, Santa Monica, Olympic, Ocean Park and Pico boulevards—each from the 10 freeway east to Centinela Avenue. (The map to the right of this article shows all of the designations, with transit oriented districts marked in brown.)
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In the transit districts, markets, for example would be required to build 1 space per 1,000 square feet of floor area, while everywhere else, they would be required to build 1 space per 250 square feet. The current mandate is 1 space per 225-300 square feet, depending on the size of the store.
In transit districts, and everywhere else in the city, new apartment and condo buildings, wouldn't have to provide any visitor parking. The current requirement is one parking space per five units.
"These concepts are not new and scary to us. But they are to other people," said Planning Commission chairwoman Gerda Paumgarten Newbold. "They’re counter intuitive."
Parking counts conducted by Gibson Transportation Consultants, Inc. during peak hours in August 2012 on five commercial corridors (Main Street, Montana, Wilshire, Ocean Park and Santa Monica) and one block in each direction on cross streets found "limited on-street parking is often in high demand, while off-street parking is considerably less utilized."
"On some days in some neighborhoods, it's hard to find [on-street] parking," said Tumlin. "But overall there's a great abundance for parking."
On average, the on-street parking occupancy rate was 83 percent—industry standard is 85 percent—while the off-street parking occupancy rate was 60 percent—the industry standard is about 90 percent, according to the Gibson study.
"So where's all the parking?" asks any one who's ever tried to park on Montana during lunchtime.
"It's in every [business] parking lot where the signs say, 'if you’re not shopping here, I’m gonna tow you,'" said Pat Gibson.
The plan calls for making those spaces available.
"Nelson/Nygarrd is saying we need to find a way to open those spaces, we need to find a way to share [them]," said commissioner Richard McKinnon.
Going forward, commissioners said they will need to focus on educating the community about the plan.
"We really need to convince people this is going to work," said Paumgarten Newbold.
The plan isn't set in stone. It was presented for the first time to the Planning Commission this week and will require City Council approve before it's on the books.
"This is the first conversation we’re having about this," said Jory Phillips, the city's deputy director of special projects.