Jul 30, 2014
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City Council Says Go Ahead with Robo-Garage

The City Council gives the OK to proceed with plans to build an automated parking garage behind City Hall despite uncertainty over whether City Hall will stay in that location. The Council says the mid-city area needs the parking.

The West Hollywood City Council voted unanimously to proceed with the at its Monday night meeting, despite also planning to do a .

The robo-garage, which the City Council first unanimously voted to build at its , 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 5-story garage will incorporate state-of-the-art computerized technology from Unitronics, an Israeli firm specializing in automated parking structures. It will have space for 200 cars, up from the 68 that are currently available in the City Hall surface parking lot.

There had been some question in the public’s mind whether the Council should approve this garage until it was sure whether City Hall would stay in its current location at 8300 Santa Monica Boulevard.

In June, during the city budget discussion for 2012-2013, news emerged of a to move City Hall a mile west to the southeast corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and San Vicente Boulevard, where the sheriff’s station currently stands. The plan would be to build a combination City Hall and sheriff’s station there, plus other retail shops.

Councilmember John Duran said that regardless of whether City Hall moves or not, the garage should be built to alleviate chronic parking shortages in the mid-city area. Duran said that mid-city businesses like O-Bar, which closed in July 2011, have a hard time surviving because of the parking problems.

Mayor Pro Tem Abbe Land said the garage was clearly needed “if we’re going to continue to get economic development along Santa Monica Boulevard.”

Mayor Jeff Prang agreed, calling it an “important investment if we want our neighborhood businesses to survive.”

During public comment, one speaker suggested that regardless of whether the automated garage is built, the city should buy one of the two gas stations on Santa Monica Boulevard between Crescent Heights Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue and build a parking garage there since that part of town is in such desperate need of parking.

Retaining ownership

Even if City Hall moves (a proposal that would be five or more years away) and the city sells the current City Hall building, City Manager Paul Arevalo recommended retaining ownership of the parking garage.

“It’s like water rights,” Arevalo said. “We should retain the garage.”

Councilmember John Heilman said the garage would be an asset that would only add value to the current City Hall building if it was sold.

Rather than selling City Hall, Duran suggested that the city could lease spaces in the building to non-profits who have been displaced from the city due to high rents for commercial spaces. “There’s nothing wrong with us becoming landlords,” Duran said.

Technology

There were questions whether the technology for the automated garage would actually work as promised.

Councilmember John D’Amico’s day job is at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica which recently opened the only other automated parking garage west of the Mississippi River.

D’Amico reported that garage has does not operate properly and has been closed the majority of the time since opening. D’Amico said that automated garage was piecemealed together using four different systems.

Public Works Director Oscar Delgado said that an automated garage in Hoboken, NJ also had similar problems until Untronics came in and installed its  technology.

Funding

There was also some question whether the city actually has the $16 million to pay for the garage after the state of California seized redevelopment funds from cities across the state to pay for the state’s budget crisis.

Arevalo said the $16 million would come out of the General Fund reserves and the rest would be made up through bonds.

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