The Santa Monica City Council has begun laying the groundwork for a potential underground parking structure at the Civic Center, but some businesses argue that the plan does not adequately address the need for more parking for the Santa Monica Pier.

The City Council voted March 8 to approve the Civic Center surface parking lot as the planned site of a subterranean parking facility to accommodate future demand from projects slated for the area, such as the Palisades Garden Walk and Santa Monica High School master plan. The council additionally approved the development of a parking demand reduction program designed to address future event parking needs.

The city commissioned Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates to conduct a comprehensive parking study for the Civic Center area focusing on future demand and in accordance with the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) policies for shared parking. Jeff Tumlin of Nelson/Nygaard told the council that the study recognizes that “parking is essential to making the downtown/Civic Center thrive in the way it is now” but it is expensive to create.

Using a shared parking approach, staff recommended constructing a parking structure beneath the Civic Center’s surface lot as the best option due to costs and its close proximity to popular venues and high-demand events. The number of spaces offered would be based on factors such as new events, the future Expo Light Rail project and other transit improvements. The council has deferred construction of the potential underground structure until after the completion of parking structure projects in downtown.

Several representatives of pier businesses had suggested creating the additional parking facility underneath the proposed Palisades Garden Walk park nearby in order to address increased parking needs for the pier.

“We see it as the only viable solution for the longstanding parking problems we’ve endured down on the pier,” said Cindy Pfeiffer of Rusty’s Surf Ranch on the pier, adding that parking availability is the most significant obstacle that tenants and visitors face.

“The opportunity is not only here to solve the current parking issues but to provide an additional source of revenue for generations to come.”

Many visitors to the pier and venues such as the Pacific Park amusement park decide to stop by on a whim as they are driving in the area, so the Civic Center site is not a viable option for the “impulse buyer,” said Jeff Klocke, director of marketing and sales at Pacific Park.

“The lack of available parking continues to be the number-one issue for Pacific Park and the pier,” said Klocke, who called the Palisades proposal a one of a kind opportunity.

Kent Smith, chair of the Pier Restoration Corporation, noted the board passed a motion saying that the parking study was “fundamentally flawed” because it did not adequately address the most serious and immediate parking problems for the pier.

Staff said the Palisades Garden Walk plan was not practical due to several issues such as site constraints. The park area covers approximately 2.5 acres, while the Civic site is about 6.5 acres, and only two parking levels could be constructed at the Palisades location before reaching the underground water table, staff noted. Due to underground utilities and other obstacles, a 450-foot-long tunnel would also need to be built to access the site, which would cost about $15 million.

According to the study, a parking facility that effectively accommodates the demand at the Civic Center area would need to provide about 950 spaces, or 540 spaces if the city decides to relocate monthly pass holders on the scheduled large event days. The subterranean Garden Walk option would only create a maximum of 400 spaces, staff said.

Among other staff arguments against the Garden Walk facility were that the project would require additional environmental analysis, resulting in a two-year delay, and it would cost a total of $63.5 million when there is only a $25 million budget.

City Councilman Kevin McKeown said that considering the additional project expenses and resulting delays, he doesn’t believe the parking structure under the park site would be possible.

“I don’t see how that particular spot can be made to work,” McKeown said.

The proposed Civic Center underground facility is not expected to be constructed until after the summer of 2014. Under the Downtown Interim Parking Plan, the current Civic facilities will need to be used for temporary replacement spaces while parking structure projects are taking place downtown.