Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Grand Avenue, Parks - and Parking!

There is understandable confusion about my testimony before the Grand Avenue Authority last Monday regarding parking spaces lost by the construction of the new Civic Park when my remarks were, by necessity, condensed into a single line.

My first point was that a major parking lot directly west of City Hall is going to be lost due to the speed with which the park’s plan is being developed.

The problem is that the park’s developer - The Related Companies - was just authorized to start planning the park last Monday (and their contract had originally called for them to start building the park by the end of this year) - even though none of the public agencies developing the overall plan had yet even publicly considered the possibility of putting of an underground garage under that site like the garages that currently exist under the other parts of the park.

Further complicating the situation is the fact that the project's EIR is still not completed and will not be complete for several more months.

And the construction of a garage is also not only not part of Related's scope of work - but Related does not even have the legal authority to even consider if or how such a public garage should be built there.

That is strictly a County/City decision.

To even more complicate the situation, due to the multi-agency jurisdiction of the land - and the multi-agency ownership for the some of the parcels - with the state, city and county individually and jointly owning parcels, there is no one single person or agency who has the ability to make this parking garage happen.

So, once I discovered this oversight at the previous meeting, I spoke with the County's parking people, LADOT - the City's major provider of parking downtown and the private developer who manages most of the County's parking facilities in the area to see if they could develop a joint financial plan for developing that garage.

Then at Monday’s meeting, the Grand Avenue Authority - rightly so - agreed that adding this garage's construction to their oversight would unduly complicate their already massive scope of work, so they suggested that talks be undertaken among the various parking providers – public and private - to see if a financial plan to build that garage can be developed in tandem with the process of planning and building the park - but as a totally legally separate project from the park.

And hopefully that can now happen.

As a side note, the reconstruction of the earthquake damaged county garage under the Courtyard of Flags block of the park (which is one block due west of the proposed new parking garage) will replace some - but not all of the parking spaces to be displaced in the lot west of City Hall.

Now as for when I was quoted as saying that thousands of spaces were being lost within one block, I was NOT referring to spaces lost by the construction the park and I did NOT mean just within one block, but due to the extreme complexity of the situation I was trying to explain in a few minutes, I can understand the confusion.

When I first mentioned within one block of the park, I was mainly referring to the new Police Headquarters now being constructed, the new Federal Court House about be built and the fact that old Hall of Justice will likely become the new County Sheriff’s headquarters.

And these projects have already displaced several large surface parking lots. Further compounding the problem, while each of these buildings will have parking garages - 100% of those spaces will be reserved - for security reasons - for government employees - and none of the public coming to those buildings will be allowed to park in them.

So not only do we lose existing spaces, but there will be a considerable demand for parking created by each of those three high rise buildings that will not be met by these projects. That is what I primarily meant when I said that one block of the park - and that is not what my several thousand parking spaces figure was meant to append.

When I was referring to the thousands of parking spaces, I meant to refer to the slightly larger area surrounding the park and - not just the one block - since virtually every surface lot in the area is slated for high rise development.

Plus in the adjacent Historic Core area not only are virtually all surface lots being lost - but right now three parking garages are in escrow that will be torn down and several more are going to have high rises built on top of them, after which those now public parking spaces will be turned into private spaces for those condo projects.

However, since most of these projects have not only not been made been public yet, and since most people are not even aware that those properties are in escrow, no one involved in the planning process for the area now has the necessary information to fully understand just how critical the parking shortage is about to become in the Civic Center/Historic Core area of downtown.

Added to that, long term contracts are also being negotiated by developers of adaptive reuse loft buildings for existing parking garages and even some surface lots, further reducing the amount of parking spaces open to the public. And - again - none of this loss of public parking is being factored into the debate on parking within the affected area.

Then when you add the parking needs that will be created by a civic park regularly attracting thousands of people to events - you can see the scope of the problem facing this area.

Next, the second point I made at the hearing - and which I feel is an even more important one - was not addressed in any of the articles - and that is the nature of the civic plaza proposed in front of City Hall.

As of right now, all civic celebrations will be held on the steps of City Hall facing the park west of City Hall. And this will necessitate the closure of Spring Street every time any event is held.

Now since Spring Street is a main feeder of bus lines to Union Station, each time this happens, it completely disrupts bus service throughout the central part of the city - and causes missed connections not only throughout downtown - but as far away as Hollywood and Koreatown since each affected bus line runs later and later due to the increasing congestion.

Then by the end of the event, the near-by left hand turn lanes have as many as ten buses backed up trying to make the detour around the street closures.

So any time there is a major public event - between bus and car traffic being gridlocked throughout the area - the public has a very difficult time getting to that event. But once another 100,000 people are living and working downtown a couple decades from now - it will result in total gridlock - unless we address this problem - now.

Additionally, having civic events in the middle of a street simply isn't... very civic. So what I have proposed is that a bridge be built from the first landing of steps from City Hall over Spring - and Spring would be dropped five or six meet to provide proper clearance below the bridge - to create a proper civic plaza that would extend from City Hall's west steps across Spring and clear up to Broadway.

This would then be true civic gathering spot that will NOT create traffic deadlock during each event and it will allow thus the public to actually get to the event.

And, ideally the construction of at least the basic infrastructure for this civic plaza should be concurrent with the parking garage, since when one is excavating and building retaining walls for the garage, one can also lower Spring Street at the same time, creating a considerable savings.

But - again - this is no way part of the scope of work for the park’s developer - Related. It has nothing to do with the present design process of the park. So this needs to be a joint City/County effort which needs to start planning... now.

I might add that the LA Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne has already come out in favor of this civic plaza/bridge as has Bud Ovrom in the past when he was the head of the CRA.

Now as for as how to pay for this - that was addressed in the third point I made at the last two hearings.

Right now, the 501c3 that is scheduled to run the completed park does not exist and there is no legal mechanism to accept private donations for the park. There is also no legal mechanism to offer naming rights to donors for projects within the park - such as the civic plaza, a band shell or larger park amenities that are not now planned for the first phase of the park.

So that foundation - or at least a temporary mechanism - needs to be set up now so that the park can be planned properly and so that a Civic Plaza can be created that does not gridlock downtown every single time a civic event is held.

In closing – as you can see – when a reporter has one line to cover what I had to say - 99% of what I had to say had to be left out. But the great news is that Troy Anderson’s Daily News article has - finally - created a true public debate on how our new civic park needs to be developed.


dgarzila said...

that was too long Brady.

Can you summarize it for us?


Anonymous said...

Won't their be a subway stop right in the middle of the new park?

Anonymous said...

There is a subway stop on Hill between First and Temple. But not everybody takes the subway. I'm one of L.A.'s biggest transit advocates, but let's face reality. Not everybody can or will take transit to visit the park. To not plan for cars is both irresponsible and naive.

That said, I would want any underground parking structure to be designed so that its effect on the quality of the park is minimal.