Connecting City and Community in Santa Monica’s City Yards

Every year, we kick off the EcoDistricts Incubator application cycle with stories highlighting the progress of past Incubator teams. 

The regeneration of Santa Monica’s City Yards has been 70 years in the making. After almost 20 years of planning and adoption of a master plan in 2013, a multidisciplinary team attended the 2016 EcoDistricts Incubator ready to embrace a holistic, community-focused process to put their plan into action.

Built in the 1940’s, Santa Monica’s sprawling 14.7-acre City Yards site has outgrown itself, and resident and pedestrian experiences leave room for improvement. As the population of the coastal community surges to nearly 100,000 residents, the City Yards has struggled to expand accordingly. The three original buildings built seven decades ago still accommodate the majority of Public Works operations, and a mishmash of an additional 13 facilities now houses everything from recycling and traffic operations, to water and wastewater operations and household hazardous waste.

The City Yards also is considered an industrial eyesore to locals, and residents refer to it as one point in a “toxic triangle,” along with the I-10 freeway and the former landfill. The site is surrounded by an uninviting, isolating wall. Garbage and other industrial trucks enter and exit the compound, and the air is dirty and polluted.

The City of Santa Monica contracted out the creation of a master plan for the City Yards as early as 1996. After a multi-phased planning process that spanned two decades, a master plan was finally adopted in 2013.

“The idea is to redevelop the City Yards into a space that meets operational needs while also opening up the site to the surrounding community,” said Erin Hamant, a senior architecture analyst for the City of Santa Monica and lead on the Santa Monica City Yards Ecodistrict. “By opening up its borders and making it greener, walkable and welcoming, we’re giving residents an opportunity to both know and be proud of how the City works.”

Santa Monica was ready to transform the City Yards from a community eyesore into a community asset, and officials turned to the EcoDistricts neighborhood-scale sustainable development framework as a guide, namely by attending the 2016 Incubator, a team-based intensive aimed at moving regeneration projects forward.

At the Incubator, a team of City staff — including the newly appointed Director of Public Works, Susan Cline; the City Architect, Miriam Mulder; and other City representatives from Architecture Services, Economic Development, Community Services Program, and Office of Sustainability and the Environment — worked to apply the core concepts of the Protocol’s Collaborative Governance and Roadmap models to implement their master plan, acknowledging that this framework provided a more holistic and inclusive planning process compared to traditional rating tools. The team was also excited to bolster community engagement and equity for a project that was so contentious with residents.

“With the City Yards, Santa Monica is aiming for a much deeper relationship between the project and people,” said Joel Cesare, Sustainable Building Advisor for the City of Santa Monica and an Incubator team participant. “We are looking at building district energy, water and resource restoration concepts into the project. When we learned that the EcoDistricts Protocol not only incorporates those sustainability targets, but also emphasizes social equity, we were intrigued.”

Added Cesare, “The Incubator provided a great opportunity for our group to sit down together and creatively think through solutions for the project using a new framework.”

The team has continued to meet since the Incubator to progress several major goals for the project. What’s more, the EcoDistricts process will continue to guide the City Yards Project through its multiple development phases. Since Incubator participation, the Santa Monica City Council officially approved the City Yards Ecodistrict Project. In October 2016, the City confirmed City Yards registration to seek EcoDistricts Certified status.

“Now that City Council has approved the City Yards as an ecodistrict project, next year will be very critical and exciting,” explained Hamant.“Our first goals are to formalize a group of multi-disciplinary community members with a Declaration of Collaboration, explore district energy, set community engagement meetings and begin planning project metrics and goals in an ecodistrict roadmap. We are ready to kick things into high gear.”


Learn More About the 2017 Incubator — Register for an upcoming informational webinar

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