As the Santa Monica City Council decided to move ahead with design development for a proposed park near the Civic Center, some Santa Monica Pier merchants called for the project to offer additional area parking.

After hearing from the project architect on the updated proposed schematic design Dec. 14, the City Council directed staff to move forward with design development documents for the Palisades Garden Walk and Town Square Project.

The creation of the proposed six-acre Palisades Garden Walk park with a one-acre Town Square in front of City Hall is part of the update to the 1993 Civic Center Specific Plan. The council has selected James Corner Field Operations to design the project.

“Our objective is to deliver for the city an amazing new space that really could become the heart of Santa Monica,” Corner told the City Council Dec. 14.

Corner said that public engagement in the process is an important part of the effort and he noted that hundreds of people have participated in previous workshops that unveiled three design concepts: “arroyo wash,” “arroyo ravine” and “arroyo dune.” Of the three, the “arroyo wash” was predominantly favored using elements from the other two plans, Corner explained.

Staff said among the community’s most favored features of the schematic design were the scenic overlooks and bluffs, informal gardens, water features and lighting.

Community members commented that they would like the park to reflect more “softness and wildness,” with improved connectivity, reduced path widths and more greenery, Corner said. The design also intends for the park to be used to enjoy views to surrounding locations such as the ocean and Palisades Park, he said.

“The idea is that when you’re in the heart of the park you really are in another world,” Corner said, adding that the experience would be like entering a garden and not necessarily a municipal park.

Among the topics of discussion at community meetings was the suggestion of other names for the park, which staff said is being considered. Roger Genser of the Landmarks Commission said the commission has indicated it has some concerns about the view corridor to City Hall and recommended reexamining the number of trees planned in front of the building.

Some council members praised the latest design concept proposed by the project architect.

“It’s really a wonderful plan and I think it’s really well-thought out,” said City Councilman Bob Holbrook, who was recently sworn in to his sixth term.

While some speakers at the meeting commended the work of Corner’s team, they told the council that the project provides an opportunity to create much-needed subterranean parking for other areas, specifically the pier.

Longtime resident Eric Faber, who lives near the park site, called the proposal “one of the most outstanding park projects I’ve been involved in,” but said that unless one of the parking lots for the RAND Corporation can be replaced, some events at the 1550 Beach lot could be in jeopardy. Resident Ellen Brennan spoke of how other cities have planned to construct parks over parking structures such as at Milennium Park in Chicago.

Marlene Gordon, owner of the Playland Arcade on the pier, said simply, “the Santa Monica Pier needs more parking,” as tenants are losing revenue every year due to parking for special events.

“The fact is that the pier tenants need more parking for our customers and the city has an opportunity to make this happen,” she said, adding that a new structure would create revenue not just for the pier but the city as well.

Asked by Mayor Richard Bloom about the feasibility for an underground parking structure, City Manager Rod Gould said additional parking at the location is very desirable and likely possible to implement. But he noted that such an option would be expensive and other planned parking projects have been underfunded. If the city chose to pursue subterranean parking there, it would be a matter of choice and could come at the sacrifice of other parking projects, Gould said.

In addition, Gould said the process to construct underground parking would likely extend the project completion by about two years. Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis said though she appreciates the need for more parking, she is concerned about slowing down the park project.

Regarding other aspects of the design, Bloom said he wants to ensure that bicycling is properly accommodated with ample opportunities for bicycle parking, and that there are elements to engage children, like a water spraying feature.

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