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City OKs robo-garage, oppos launch petition
By WeHo News staff, West Hollywood, California
At last week’s regular council meeting, the West Hollywood City Council voted to proceed to the design phase of the automated parking garage to be built behind City Hall.
The robo-garage, which the City Council first unanimously voted to build at its May 2, 2011 meeting, will offer a valet-like experience where people leave their cars and the automated system stores the vehicles in parking berths using motorized lifts, conveyers and shuttles.
The five-story garage incorporates state-of-the-art computerized technology from Unitronics, a firm specializing in automated parking structures.
It will have space for 200 cars, up from the 68 currently available in the City Hall surface parking lot (one third of city code for a building of its side, with the overflow filling the Kings Road lot during the daytime).
One design possibility for the exterior of the automatd garage is a translucent, glowing covering.
The discussion about the garage, however, got somewhat sidetracked by and conflated with the recent revelation that the city is embarking on a feasibility study to expand an outgrown City Hall.
Contained in the new budget, roughly $200,000 will be spent to determine whether or not it is feasible to build a combination City Hall/Sheriff’s branch station at the site of the current Sheriff’ Station.
The study will determine if the grand scheme of expanding City Hall (which is currently severely short of space and expected to become tighter) could be combined with a much-needed expansion of a too-tightly crammed Sheriff’s Department and inclusion of retail shops facing Santa Monica Boulevard to mirror the vibrant street life enjoyed across the street.
City Manager Paul Arevalo said that the plans in the works “barely building capacity to meet the needs today, let alone to allow for some potential growth in the future.”
Unveiling a petition to stop progress on the plan is the West Hollywood Residents Alliance, a committee formed to "foster discussion and agreement among residents to improve the community of West Hollywood… created out of the desire… to come together and affect positive change. It is an independent entity… not in opposition to [government]… merely an addition.
“Its mission is to stimulate, foster and create community consensus to advance public policy consistent with the agreed upon goals and vision of the residents of West Hollywood."
The plans for the garage include a plaza level meeting, events and green space, seen here in pink.
Its Facebook page lists no membership, but the group apparently stands in opposition to the 25th Anniversary Capital Improvement plan’s remaining thrusts – the Plummer Park re-design and expansion and the City Hall Community Service Center and Parking Project.
A glance at their Facebook page shows the group’s primary goal appears to be to prevent the city from building more parking in the Mid-City and on the Eastside, saying that “There is no clear demonstrated report or independent analysis the shows that the current parking needs of city hall staff are not being met with parking that is currently being used by them on a daily basis.” (emphasis ours)
City officials would counter that argument by pointing at innumerable studies and nearly three decades’ worth of experience that show the Mid-City and Eastside of the city has serious problems with providing sufficient parking for businesses that stem from the creation of the city as a railroad terminus in pre-automobile days.
Community advocate Jeanne Dobrin harkened back to her 36 year role as civic watchdog by recalling that “the biggest problem faced by West Hollywood then was, big surprise, not enough parking,” and that the city should “go ahead and build it.”
Stephanie Harker (foreground) and Cathy Blaivas prepare to speak to a gathering of activists opposed to renovating Plummer Park. Photo by WeHo News.
According to Sheila Harker, one of the Plummer Park neighbors fighting to stop that project from moving forward, the adjustment of the plan from a third-floor city hall expansion to a ground floor expansion smacks of fraud.
“If you keep telling the citizens you are giving them ‘one stop shopping’ for community service and then you change it without asking and spend 2 million dollars of taxpayer money on design...isn't that [fraud]?”
Contrary to her assertion, though, the $16 million price tag for the auto-garage and Community Plaza is $2 million less than that set aside in the original plan.
In addition, according to the staff’s report (but contingent on final designs) meeting space will be provided in the new plan along with an expansion of uses to include green plaza event space for press conferences, intimate performances community events, presentations and proclamations, and a demonstration garden of sustainable plantings.
Genevieve Morrill, CEO of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, called the proposed project a “futuristic, innovative conveyor for parking that maximizes our space in a dense urban environment.”
Stephanie Harker, in public comments at the meeting, said she understood all of the planning and preparation going into the “cool building” since 2007, but could not understand why the city was embarking on a project of this size given the current economic climate.
A Facebook entry on the WeHo Residents Alliance page arguing against the need for additional parking in West Hollywood.
She warned of coming bankruptcy, “if we’re not careful.”
City officials flatly reject the notion that the project, having been planned and essentially already paid for, would contribute a bankruptcy in one of the handful of California cities that operate well in the black each year.
According to Mayor Jeffrey Prang, “We[Ho has] strong revenues, little debt and about $150+ million in cash assets. Our annual budget is only $62M [a ratio of 2.5 to 1 wherein] cities are advised to maintain 20 percent of the annual budget in reserve.”
Furthermore, he says, “The proposed parking structure is actually cheaper to build than a convention structure with ramps. A conventional structure would also require digging 2 levels below grade to achieve the same number of parking spaces.
Finally, the “funding strategy has no impact on existing programs and services, requires no taxes or fees on the residents, and will not have an impact on our financial stability,” says Mayor Prang. “For West Hollywood to approach the San Bernardino status, we’d have to start spending money like drunken sailors.”
Also entering into the discussion – and number one of the reasons listed in the petition against the project, was concerns about how well the technology works, citing the Hoboken, NJ experience and a painful experience with an automated garage at UCLA Medical Center.
According to Council member John D’Amico, who works as project manager at the latter location, the garage there has been inoperative more often than in use due to a hodge-podge of systems cobbled together in construction.
In the Hoboken experience, a software dispute and poor construction led to that city placing the project in Unitronic’s hands, and after that change the garage has worked as first expected.
The second point n the petition against the project is that “the required use of electric energy to operate this garage will increase the carbon footprint of the city and is not in alignment with GREEN policy.”
The staff report says that photovoltaic cells atop the roof will supply all the electricity needed for the garage to function while supplementing city hall’s power use.
Besides that, eliminating “excessive vehicular circulation through the neighborhood (people looking for spaces) results in removing greenhouse gasses equivalent to removing 92 cars from the road, or planting 67,000 new trees.
The building will qualify for LEED certification at either the Gold or Platinum levels.