A property owner’s request to reconfigure a potentially dangerous shopping plaza ingress and egress driveway into a courtyard at 2901 Ocean Park Blvd. in Sunset Park was denied by the Santa Monica City Council Tuesday, February 8th.

Santa Monica resident Claire Heron — who owns the plaza and its CR Management Company — said the driveway is dangerous because vehicles enter the lot at high speeds while hundreds of shoppers and pedestrians walk inside the lot and on the front sidewalk.

The plaza has one two-way driveway off the boulevard that cuts through the middle of the lot and stops at an office building in the rear.

“There are no proposed changes to the buildings and no additional square footage,” Heron said. “Our only intent is to improve safety on the property.”

“There is constant conflict between people and cars,” Heron said. “My goal is to make the place safer, cleaner and greener.”

Scott Ferguson, who owns a business on the lot, told the City Council that he has witnessed near-miss accidents on a frequent basis.

“I drive to work there daily and I have almost been rear-ended several times by vehicles on Ocean Park Boulevard,” Ferguson said.

“Inside, I once saw a mother taking care of a baby in a stroller while her daughter who was maybe age three or four jumped out into the driveway as a vehicle was coming in fast,” he said. “Had the driver not been paying attention and screeched on the brakes, this little girl would definitely have been hit.”

The popular plaza’s 25 tenants include restaurants, coffee shops, a video store, a dry cleaner, a dog wash, a computer service store, chiropractors and accountants, among a variety of other types of small businesses.

More than 100 Sunset Park residents and employees from the nearby Santa Monica Business Park walk to the plaza each day.

The plaza also attracts people who drive in from Ocean Park Boulevard, which has a 40-mile-per-hour speed limit.

Heron and local architect John Spohrer, who worked on the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica, designed a plan to close the driveway and change the middle of the lot to what they called “4,000 square feet of environmentally friendly green space.”

Three proposed driveway alignments for the City Council to choose from would redirect traffic using left- and right-turn restrictions to either 29th Street or 30th Street, or both streets.

SAYING NO — City Councilmembers unanimously voted against the request to close the driveway because the alternative proposals use residential streets, which the city says is inconsistent with the city General Plan.

Amanda Schachter, city planning manager, said the General Plan “generally discourages” the use of residential side streets as an entrance or exit to commercial property.

Heron said portions of General Plan policies used by city officials — Circulation Element Objective 4.2 and Policy 4.2.3 — do not adequately relate to the situation of trying to close a dangerous driveway.

If the policies were used in their entirety rather than portions of them, Heron said the request to close the driveway would be consistent with the General Plan.

“There is no good solution to this,” said Councilman Richard Bloom. “The best solution is what the staff recommends.”

Residents on the two streets petitioned City Council to deny the request because of concerns about an increase in traffic in the neighborhood.

“We urge you to vote as two Planning Commissions and one City Council have done in the past,” said Peter Mesa, an 11-year resident of 30th Street.

“There has not been one accident at the driveway in question,” Mesa said.

Heron said the Santa Monica Police Department would not file police reports for accidents that happen on the driveway because the driveway is private property.

Heron said a vehicle entering the property struck a bicyclist when the property belonged to an earlier owner.

Since Heron purchased the site, she said there have been “several minor fender benders, but the potential for a major accident every day.”

“I bought this property three years ago and immediately recognized there was a terrible problem with the driveway,” Heron said.

In 1989, both the City Council and the Planning Commission voted against closing the driveway because of traffic concerns. And last year the commission technically denied the proposal with a 3-3 vote, with one member absent.

According to last week’s city staff report recommending denial of the request to close the driveway, a traffic study concluded that there would be “no new trip generation to the site.”

“The results of the study show a redistribution of 200 vehicle trips from 29th to 30th Street but the shift does not exceed the city threshold of significance and does not create an environmental impact,” the staff report states.

Officials from the City Planning Division recommended that Heron install a tire shredder to prevent exits onto 29th Street, relocate signage and modify landscaping.

“We have discussed this at tortuous meetings in the past,” said Councilman Herb Katz.

“It is not an ideal development to begin with,” Katz said. “However, the driveway can be watched and mitigated to make it safer.”

Heron said community outreach resulted in approximately 700 petitions in support of closing the driveway while 30 people concerned about traffic submitted petitions to the Planning Commission last year.

Eileen Hecht, a former city planning commissioner and now a consultant hired by Heron, said Heron has previously attempted many of the staff recommendations and “those things are not effective.”

“Is it most beneficial to prevent a small number of cars from driving a few feet down 30th Street or is it most beneficial to ensure the safety of hundreds of pedestrians on the sidewalk and inside the plaza?” Hecht asked councilmembers.

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