Sun setting off Venice Beach in 2022. Photo credit: Kris Dahlin

A wasted crisis

It is a shame that when the Santa Monica City Council began considering the Main Street Alfresco Plan, it didn’t consider the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We now know that our best mitigations are vaccination, face masks, and avoiding indoor public gatherings or where there isn’t plenty of fresh air, as in outdoor dining.

The missed opportunity was to recognize that a permanent attractive outdoor dining, shopping and socializing area would be a valuable asset for our vibrant city. Instead we kluged together a parklet plan with a busy thoroughfare through its center, bifurcating the area with traffic and concrete K-rail barriers that killed the potential European-style outdoor piazza we could have had.

Imagine how much more valuable it would have been for our businesses and our people if they fully considered what we could have had if instead we closed the area to traffic and leveled out the curbside parking areas. Then the restaurant/bar seating could have extended from the storefront serving facilities out to the central walkway/emergency access corridor.

How much better it would have been to be seated at a table watching pedestrians and scooter/bicycle walking people strolling by than to be sandwiched between noisy vehicle traffic close by on one side and a narrow sidewalk populated be many potentially contagious folks close by on the other side — the Main Street we have now? Imagine if the city and its business people creatively collaborated on providing the assets and arrangements to make a popular attraction that could observe Santa Monica and the wider surrounding area for the present and into the future.

We did have four weekends of experimental street closures that were generally well received, but these arrangements were ad hoc, which made the area far less attractive and functional than if it had been the piazza we could have had with a better planned and developed walkaround Main Street.
We had a crisis that could have set us on the road to developing a more valuable asset, but instead we got something that looked like a devastated no-man area until the ugly concrete K-rails got their decorative paint jobs.

But the painting was indeed just a feeble effort that doesn’t deliver the benefit we could have now if a better considered permanent goal without the cement barriers had been selected.

As a side note, I have followed the Alfresco development process carefully since its first announcement, and know how the pressure of the moment led the council to choose the off-the shelf parklet plan that had been promoted and prototyped along Montana Avenue and elsewhere for a couple of years. It was the convenient solution that allowed them to move on to the myriad of other COVID-19-related issues.

However, we now know that we will be living with pandemic issues well into the future, so shouldn’t we now take the time to consider a better future for Santa Monica’s ailing Main Street business district?

Tim Tunks
Santa Monica