Opponents of a planned $2.7-million, five-level parking garage in West Hollywood Park have questioned the need for the project, saying that hundreds of public parking spaces at the Pacific Design Center across the street from the park go unused.
"It doesn't make sense for the city to talk about spending money for a parking structure (in the park), when you've got all this parking across the street that nobody is using," community activist Ralph Feeley said.
City officials announced last week that the garage, which would accommodate up to 314 vehicles, represents a first step in the construction of the city's long-planned civic center and an effort by city officials to fulfill a promise to the business community to provide much-needed additional public parking.
However, opponents of the plan to build the civic center in the park have accused the city of moving swiftly on the parking garage in order to speed up the center's construction.
On Monday, they took aim at the parking garage and a decision by the City Council to instruct City Atty. Michael Jenkins to recommend whether the city should challenge the legality of a ballot initiative aimed at preventing the center from being built.
"To consider mounting a legal challenge against the initiative sends a clear message to (the people) who signed it that they have no standing in the community," said Tom Larkin, chairman of the Save Our Parks Alliance.
He called the plan to begin construction of the parking garage next January "the ultimate insult" and "an attempt to rush the civic center into the ground against the will of the people."
Larkin's group has collected enough signatures to place the initiative on the April, 1990, ballot, but city officials have hinted for several weeks that they may challenge the legality of the initiative.
The five-member council voted unanimously Monday to direct Jenkins to return June 5 with a recommendation on the matter. Three council members remain firmly committed to the decision made three years ago to build the center in the park. Councilman Steve Schulte is opposed, and Councilman Paul Koretz, elected last year, has said he is undecided.
Schulte, who has said he will not favor a legal challenge, said that he voted the way he did "as a matter of collegiality. . . . Another 30 days is not going make any real difference. If there's a move then to keep (the initiative) off the ballot, we can fight our battles then."
Sought to Defuse Criticism
Meanwhile, city officials have sought to defuse the latest criticism over the parking garage, insisting that the structure is needed despite the claims of those opposed to the idea.
"They're accusing us of moving on the parking garage as a way of trying to beat the initiative, and that simply isn't true," Heilman said. "One of the reasons we hired a (project manager) was so that we would be able to fast-track certain things. . . . The longer (the center) is delayed, the more money it costs, and that doesn't serve the community interest."
As part of an arrangement with the city, the Pacific Design Center nightly makes available a parking lot with room for up to 200 vehicles on the north side of its sprawling complex, across San Vicente Boulevard from the park.
Patrons may park there between 5 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. for a flat fee of $1.50. As part of the arrangement, should the parking lot become full, the design center is obligated to open its 1,700-vehicle parking garage nearby.
However, since the arrangement began eight months ago, that has not been necessary, and on most nights "fewer than half" the 200 spaces are used, said Eugene Scott, the design center's senior vice president.
'It's Very Expensive'
Scott said this week that he plans to talk to city officials "about the possibility of modifying" the arrangement. "Frankly, it costs us money for personnel, lighting and maintenance. . . . It's very expensive," he said.
However, City Manager Paul Brotzman said it is "incorrect to assume that because the design center lot is not fully utilized, the same would be true of the parking structure to be built in the park."
"It may sound one way to suggest that (the lot) is across the street, but there is a distance involved. . . . Put yourself in the shoes of a customer at one of the establishments on Santa Monica Boulevard. Are you going to walk the distance to the PDC down a busy street (San Vicente)? Probably not," he said.
Plans call for building the parking garage on the north side of the park on what is now a softball field, adjacent to an alley that runs behind busy Santa Monica Boulevard, with its assortment of restaurants and bars.
"We're talking about enhancing that alley, making it pedestrian friendly, with lighting and landscaping, and widening it, so people aren't going to feel they're having to walk down a dark street to get to their cars," Brotzman said. "It isn't the same situation at all as exists with the PDC parking."