San Vicente Boulevard may soon look a lot different in the city of West Hollywood. On Feb. 5, the City Council voted 3-2 to approve a project that will transform the corridor between Santa Monica Boulevard and Melrose Avenue with an ambitious, skyward bound design.
According to a staff report, a sky sanctuary concept will “aim to create an eco-responsive public gathering space that embodies flexibility, innovation and forward-thinking multi-purpose design.” In total, the project will cost between $13.5-18 million, although the city intends to obtain most of this through anticipated grants.
A curbless “street shelf” sidewalk would occupy the same ground-level as vehicles, with a protected bike lane in between. The staff report said that this would both enhance accessibility for those with disabilities and serve as a speed reduction device for vehicular traffic. Moveable planters will be positioned between the north and south lanes of traffic and have the ability to move to facilitate street closures (during West Hollywood annual events like Pride and the Halloween Carnaval). A raised wildlife sanctuary would be constructed over the street, inaccessible to pedestrians but providing shade to combat urban heat. It would also “capture storm water for reuse and irrigation,” according to the report.
“The San Vicente project is truly a visionary project – and I was happy to support it,” Councilwoman Lauren Meister said. “I see the project as helping us meet so many of the city’s goals: public safety, mobility, pedestrian activation, climate action, resilience, biodiversity … we’re a built-out city, and we have to find creative ways to achieve these goals.”
The project would be positioned next to the long-in-development AIDS Monument, and would also provide the potential for several gathering spaces.
Vice Mayor Chelsea Byers agreed that the project was innovative and forward-thinking for the city’s goal, and noted that years of civic participation helped bring it into the pipeline.
“This project is the ideal blend of aspiration and practicality that cities need to embrace in order to solve major existential challenges while also continuing to support quality of life issues,” Byers said. “Thanks to feedback and collaboration, the public plaza idea thoughtfully evolved into an opportunity to address climate change and water resilience and extreme heat through a people-centered plaza maximizing our use of space and potential in this area. We are finding creative ways to do more with less as we must in our geographical footprint.”
Byers added that when it comes to climate change, it is important for West Hollywood to “put its money where its mouth is.”
Both Mayor John Erickson and Councilman John Heilman took issue with the project, however, and voted against it.
“I’m more concerned about projects that have been laying by the wayside,” Erickson said. “I believe we should be investing those dollars in capital projects and programs that we see and hear about daily. [These projects] will then pay for these grand envisioning ideas. We have a lot before us right now that we should be focusing on. And while we can always dream big and be the creative city, we need to focus on what’s happening here and now.”
“I have a number of concerns,” Heilman said. “First, our staff seems to be unable to complete projects which have already been in the pipeline for a number of years. Adding an aspirational project to our staff’s workload is inappropriate when there is a significant backlog in numerous key areas at City Hall. Second, we have advocated for a San Vicente alignment for a Metro line. I don’t feel we should be tearing up San Vicente to put in a pie-in-the-sky project when significant construction will be conducted in the future in connection with the Metro line. Finally, I don’t think there was an adequate evaluation of how vehicular traffic will be impacted by the construction or completed project. I know there are some people who believe that we would be better off if everyone got out of their cars, but that isn’t the reality of how most of our residents and most of our visitors commute.”
Councilwoman Sepi Shyne said that many of Erickson and Heilman’s concerns, however, were addressed in the council’s direction to city staff. She also noted that West Hollywood would only be covering $2 million of the total cost, and the rest of the funding will come through grants.
“We’re taking a measured approach to this project,” she said. “It is going to be contingent as we give direction. Staff is going to procure it, first and foremost, so fiscally, it’s really measured and pragmatic. It’s stunning. It’s great for being the creative city. It’s great for the environment, and we also gave direction to work with Metro.”
The process for competition will take several years. Once grants are secured, the project would begin construction, with an anticipated opening date of 2030.