The San Vicente Streetscape Project started off as a few shade structures, some street lighting and other minor improvements to San Vicente Boulevard between Santa Monica Boulevard and Melrose when it was approved in February 2022. The hope was that they would make closing the road for events and rallies a little less of a hassle.
But a lot can happen in two years — especially when consultants get involved.
The plan for road improvements has since metastasized into a mammoth public works project which aims to be many things to many people: nature conservation area, global tourist attraction, crowd control mechanism.
On Monday night, City Council will get the first look at the highly ambitious project — now dubbed “Sky Sanctuaries” — since they encouraged the landscape architects at !melk to pursue the more fanciful of the concepts they were presented.
The project was originally going to cost between $1.5 and $2 million. But grand plans call for big bucks, and the final bill could be as high as $18 million.
What the proposal refers to as the Sky Sanctuaries are akin to an elevated forest hoisted on columns above San Vicente Boulevard like a freeway overpass, providing shade below, a wildlife preserve above and various infrastructure perks throughout.
Central to its design are “basket scoops” that capture and reuse rainwater collected in integrated cisterns.
The plaza is supposed to act as a “micro-forest,” aimed at supporting local wildlife such as pollinators, insects and migrating birds. This approach introduces the concept of urban rewilding into a densely populated area. The elevated forests, purportedly low maintenance, will not be accessible to the public.
The road will no longer have curbs. Instead, the plaza will raised up on a “street shelf” meant to slow vehicular traffic and make travel easier for disabled pedestrians and event attendees. Movable planters on railway tracks below the scoops will be used to close or section off the road for cars or crowds. Permeable pavement will counter the urban heat island effect and assist in stormwater management.
The design includes community education and engagement features, such as a nature watching installation and public information kiosks. These elements aim to inform the public about wildlife, pollination, and micro-climate biodiversity, increasing environmental awareness and fostering community-nature connections.
When built, Sky Sanctuaries will be a difficult sight to ignore, even next to the Pacific Design Center.
City Hall has another set of consultants forecasting the economic benefits of such an eye-popping investment. The project will nominally boost travel, tourism and support for small businesses through events, ostensibly leading to increased sales tax revenue, spending and job creation. It aims to “enhance equity and access” by providing a fully accessible space that mitigates environmental impacts, thus improving health and wellness. The project will also elevate the city’s brand and attract potential stakeholders, improving walkability and enhancing the quality of life. It might also increase real estate values and tax revenues due to its proximity to accessible public spaces.
Community outreach has been minimal at best, but the feedback City Hall has received from residents includes a number of valid concerns and many questions that have not yet been answered:
• Canopy structures will compress space and encourage traffic to slow
• How are median planters moved?
• How often will the road be closed?
• Are the proposed elements crash proof?
• Are the proposed elements seismic proof?
• What crowd sizes can be expected?
City Hall claims prospective grants will cover as much as 80 percent of the construction costs, they claim. The project’s scheduled completion date is in 2030 — unless City Council is willing to fork over more city funds to expedite it. Doing so would place the completion date in late 2027, just in time for the crowds coming to the Olympic Games.