After a 20-year-plus run, Aaron Brothers has moved out of the retail space at the city’s first municipal parking structure at 8383 Santa Monica Blvd. We should be grateful that we had a tenant as reliable as that to help defray the costs of construction. But times have changed, and today there is a glut of retail space in most of the mixed-use buildings along Santa Monica Boulevard.
At the next City Council meeting, Councilmember Lindsay Horvath will suggest that rather than attempt to lease the now-vacant space, the city avail itself of this opportunity to create an “intergenerational community center.”
Horvath has long bemoaned the unseemly vacancy rate in new mixed-use construction and has advocated that such space should be used to house community-serving non-profits. In the current market, it makes sense that the city not attempt to rent the empty space at the parking structure and compete with the glut of vacant space.
But, in all due respect, an intergenerational community center sounds a lot like a solution is search of a problem.
I applaud Horvath’s initiative in opening up a discussion about practical as well as creative uses of this space. At 7,500 square feet, this site could accommodate a number of the city’s needs.
First, we should consider the fact that City Hall no longer accommodates all of our staff and that we are leasing office space along Sant Monica Boulevard. Maybe it would make sense to relocated Rent Stabilization or our Transportation Department to the parking structure site, which is within easy walking distance from City Hall. There is a very limited amount of reasonably priced office space in the city, and there is no reason for us to rent when we own space.
Second, there is a lack of meeting space at City Hall. I have attended several public hearings in that claustrophobic meeting room on the first floor that accommodates less than a dozen seats for the audience. I served on the city’s East Side Advisory Task Force, which met in that space despite our repeated complains that the room was inadequate as well as inconvenient.
Nothing says more about the city’s actual commitment to open public processes than the fact that we continue to use this room for important public hearings. The room was so tiny that interested members of the public often could not find a place to sit and simply left in frustration rather than participate in the meeting.
The retail space at the parking structure has plenty of room for a spacious meeting space that would have on-site parking and would be within walking distance for thousands of residents. During the summer it has been almost impossible to find parking for City Council and commission meetings held in the building West Hollywood Park. We could at least have space that could adequately serve most commission and board meetings at the parking structure.
Furthermore, there is a huge demand for meeting space throughout the city. A meeting place at the parking structure could easily be filled just with meetings serving our recovery community. Plenty of people would be relieved to avoid the congestion and parking headaches of the meeting sites on Robertson. Meeting space in the center of town just makes sense.
Third, we could make some of the space available for local non-profits rather than creating an entire new program. SOVA Food Bank had to relocate far outside the city when it lost its lease on La Brea Avenue. SOVA is a beloved and essential non-profit that should be within the city. Having a highly visible site along Santa Monica Boulevard would not only be convenient for many residents, it could remind us of our need to donate and support struggling members of our community. There are other deserving non-profits in need, perhaps even the AHF Pharmacy.
If the city were inclined to create a new program, I would suggest that we use a portion of the vacant space as a homeless services drop-in center. While I know this is probably the least popular suggestion I could make, a physical site is an important missing factor from our homeless outreach program.
A homeless drop-in center could be relatively small but could provide essential services that would attract folks who need to be hooked up with social services. It could offer water, warm coffee, power bars and toiletries such as shampoo and razors to incentivize visitors. It would be an opportunity to provide people with laundry detergent or feminine hygiene products, items that are hard to distribute on the street. It could offer a brief respite for homeless people needing a place to cool down or get out of the rain. It would also offer those of us so inclined to bring in necessary items that homeless people might not be able to afford. The nice thing about this location is that it would be close enough to City Hall for the City Manager to monitor the site to ensure it does not become an attractive nuisance.
This is item 5(b) on Tuesday’s City Council agenda. I hope that those of you that have other creative uses for this site make your views known to City Council. I applaud Councilmember Horvath for thinking outside the box and fostering a public discussion on this issue.