City of Santa Monica

Staff Report

Pier Use Study and Twilight Concert Series Update


Department:Pier Management, Housing and Economic DevelopmentSponsors:
Category:08. Administrative Item

Recommended Action

Recommended Action

Staff recommends that the City Council:

1.               Review and comment on the Santa Monica Pier Corporation Board recommendations and Pier Use Study; and

2.               Receive an update on changes to the Twilight Concert Series being undertaken for the 2017 season. Staff will return to Council in the fall with an evaluation of the effectiveness of the proposed changes.


Staff Report Body

Executive Summary


The City and Santa Monica Pier Corporation (SMPC) engaged ROMA Design Group to prepare a Pier Use Study (Study) and assist the SMPC with facilitating an intensive eight-month public process to develop a series of realistic and actionable short-term and mid-term recommendations to help the Santa Monica Pier best respond to and leverage the changing environment brought about by the recently completed Phase 2 Expo Line and Colorado Esplanade, as well as the upcoming replacement of the Pier Bridge and the update of the Local Coastal Program (LCP).  The emphasis of this effort is to sustain and enhance the character of the Pier as an attractive public environment that continues to welcome locals and visitors of all backgrounds and incomes to share and experience an iconic embodiment of California’s historic heritage, natural environment and cultural diversity.  


Additionally, guidance from the SMPC Board is provided in a companion document (Board Recommendations) which summarizes and categorizes the SMPC Board’s recommendations reflecting both ROMA’s work and the Board’s knowledge of the Pier and City practices. The SMPC’s expectation is that the Board Recommendations and Study (Attachments A and B) would provide guidance not only on the update of the LCP, but for all matters concerning the Pier.


The Twilight Concert Series (TCS) has grown significantly over the past decade, as have the related impacts to public safety, traffic, the beach, and associated costs.  City staff met with board members and staff of the Santa Monica Pier Corporation (SMPC) in 2015 regarding the 2015 and 2016 TCS. They have been meeting again since December 2016 to identify changes for the 2017 series to reduce the adverse impacts and to seek cost reductions to sustain a long-standing community tradition.


The changes for 2017 include reducing the number of concerts from ten to eight, beginning the series earlier to avoid the summer peak season, implementing a traffic plan and encouraging attendees to use active transportation, setting up a more extensive and on-going planning and coordination process among City staff, Pier Corporation staff, and event producers, and developing a campaign to reduce the amount of trash on the beach.  As part of the proposed FY 2017-2019 budget, staff will recommend an allocation in the amount of $600,000 to cover City-related costs. Staff will return to the Council in fall 2017 with a full report on the TCS series, an evaluation of the changes, and a request for direction regarding the future of the TCS.



The Santa Monica Pier is a unique waterfront and historic resource that brings together people from all walks of life. As one of the City’s and region’s most enduring and successful public spaces, the Pier serves many functions and uses, including being a public amenity with active and passive recreation and a platform for events, artistic expression, fishing, coastal access, and a connection to history.


The Twilight Concert Series (TCS) was launched nearly four decades ago as part of the effort to “bring back” the Pier, which had been saved by citizen action from planned demolition. Over that time, it played a key role in that success and become a signature summer series concert tradition, featuring a broad range of musical acts on Thursday nights.  It has grown to attract visitors from throughout the Los Angeles area, who enjoy the TCS from the Pier and adjacent beach.  That growth has gradually expanded beyond the Pier itself to cover a wide swath of beach to the south.


The Pier’s attractions include commercial enterprises, including an amusement park, arcade, aquarium, and many restaurants, shops, and unique experiences including a historic hippodrome and carousel. It also features the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, a non-profit educational institution devoted to ocean and environmental science education.  Annual visitor counts prior to the opening of Phase 2 of the Expo Light Rail Line were estimated at over seven million people; with the completion of the Expo Line in May of 2016, Pier tenants and Pier staff have reported a substantial increase in Pier visitation.                


Context for the Pier Use Study

The impetus for the Pier Use Study (Study) originated from the City’s and SMPC’s interest in proactively identifying how the Pier and its related operations could be updated in light of several transformative projects, starting with the arrival of Phase 2 Expo Line light rail and the completion of Colorado Esplanade, which collectively have increased access and brought thousands more visitors to the Pier on a daily basis.  In addition, the upcoming replacement of the Pier Bridge and the update of the Local Coastal Program (LCP) are seen as critical components to enable the City to further reshape the way millions of visitors will access and experience the historic venue and public resource.


The Pier Bridge replacement project and LCP prioritize pedestrian and bicycle access by repurposing areas of the Pier previously devoted to vehicle circulation and parking in favor of other uses. The Pier Bridge replacement project provides the means to minimize conflicts among pedestrians, bicyclists, and automobiles accessing the Pier by creating separate areas for these modes of travel.  The LCP is a two-part document that consists of a Land Use Plan (LUP) and an Implementation Plan. The new LUP plan, if adopted by Council and subsequently by the Coastal Commission, would update the 1992 Local Coastal Program Land Use Plan and establish new coastal access policies including parking policies. The Implementation Plan would be a zoning document which sets the land-use standards with which development in the Coastal Zone must comply.


The draft Land Use Plan and the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Pier Bridge replacement are expected to be presented to Council later this year.


Consultants and Study Process

ROMA Design Group, designer of many notable public spaces including Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade and San Francisco’s Ferry Building, was selected to facilitate the public process that paired the consultant team’s technical expertise with input from engaged stakeholders and community members.  The preparation of the Study was organized around a series of three community workshops hosted by the Santa Monica Pier Corporation on June 3, 2015, September 21, 2015, and December 2, 2015. Upon completion of the Study, the SMPC Board prepared a companion document that distilled ROMA’s work in the context of the Board’s experience.  The companion document that was approved by the Board on December 17, 2015.



While there are many benefits of increased visitation, more visitors necessitate an increase in the level of services on the Pier. As a waterfront structure, the Pier itself requires a continually higher level of maintenance and repair as the structure is subjected to the additional stresses caused by increased visitation, climate change, and sea-level rise.  Recommendations in the attached documents include physical improvements to enhance the visitors experience, suggestions for new uses and activities that could improve the Pier’s financial performance, and additional approaches to improve environmental sustainability of the Pier.


The objective of the Study was not to prepare a “master plan” or “specific plan” (plans that may be needed at a future time), but rather to offer actionable and forward-thinking ideas and priorities that could be implemented by the City incrementally as interest, opportunity, and funding allow. In addition, the Study introduces ideas to be vetted by other formal planning documents and public works initiatives such as the LCP and Pier Bridge EIR analysis. 


The Study and SMPC recommendations are aimed to support the Pier’s continued vibrancy and vitality, as well as promote improved fiscal and environmental sustainability. The Study is not a review of the Pier’s compliance under the Americans with Disabilities Act Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title 24 of the California Building Code or any similar law. Should the City adopt some or all of the SMPC board recommendations, SMPC anticipates that the City would perform the required studies to ensure that the recommendations comply with such laws.  The SMPC Board understands that not all of the proposed recommendations may be realized, and the recommendations that could be realized may require further study and discussion.  


The SMPC Board prepared a Board Recommendations document to serve as a concise companion piece to summarize both the findings in the Study and the Board’s experience with the Pier.  The Board Recommendations are presented in five categories: 1) Access and Circulation, 2) Uses and Activities, 3) Financial Sustainability, 4) Environmental Sustainability, and 5) Regulatory.


Notable findings in the Study and reaffirmed in the Board Recommendations include the following:

·         Reduction of Parking on Pier Deck Parking Lot: the vision presented in the Study calls for reducing the parking area to improve the layout of the lot and provide pathways that would better buffer pedestrians from cars. Shrinking the parking area could add dedicated community gathering space while allowing the remainder of the pier deck parking area to be use as ‘flex space’ that could be used for parking, community programing, or other activities (see page 7 in Attachment A for Opportunity Area Map).  The SMPC Board recommends the Pier Deck parking lost in the reconfiguration be relocated to the Deauville Lot north of the Pier. Parking policies set by the LCP would need to be revised to reflect the reduction of parking spaces on the Pier for existing and new uses on the Pier.


·         Opportunity Areas: the Study identified five activity areas on the Pier where the quality and diversity of activities could be enhanced.


1)              Area 1 - Education/Children’s Activity Area: create a family-friendly area adjacent to Ocean Front Walk and the Carousel.


2)              Area 2 - Market Place/Event Space Activity Area: create a continuous pedestrian Pier Walk experience with a new ground-level Market Hall, ground-level shops, and a second-level Event Center that would replace the area currently used as the parking lot entrance/exit and ‘back of house’ maintenance facilities.


3)              Area 3 - Recreation and Amusement Activity Area: create a permanent recreational/amusement/spectator use that complements adjacent uses and is capable of improving pedestrian flow.


4)              Area 4 Flexible Open-Space-Activity Area: repurpose the west side of the pier parking lot and the eastern edge of Pacific Park to create an important gateway to the amusement activities and create a more positive connection to the parking area as a flexible open space.


5)              Area 5 - Vending Cart and Outdoor Dining Zones: create additional vending cart opportunities and outdoor dining extension zones to bring more activity and continuity to pedestrian movement along the length of the Pier Walk.


·         Pier Bridge Replacement Project - the SMPC continues to endorse the two-bridge proposal (Colorado Avenue and Moss Avenue bridges) which could prioritize pedestrian access and safety by separating pedestrians and bicycles from vehicles and could also unlock new opportunities for activities and uses on the Pier by allowing the Pier to reclaim areas that had previously been used for vehicle movement and parking. However, the SMPC recommendation presents a design refinement to the Pier Bridge Replacement Project and is summarized below. 


The SMPC recommends that the two-bridge design should:


1)              Incorporate an elevator, escalators, and a staircase within the Colorado Ave Bridge, rather than a ramping system, to enhance multifaceted access to the Pier. The addition of an elevator, escalator, and staircase would better accommodate the continuous and high-volume flow of pedestrians on to and off the Pier.


2)              Extend the Colorado Esplanade bike lanes on to the Colorado Avenue Bridge and connect with the Beach Bike Path.


Pier Bridge Replacement EIR

An Environmental Impact Report (EIR) analysis of different bridge designs to replace the Pier Bridge is currently underway and will be brought to Council for review and comment at a future date. The preferred alternative in the EIR is a project that replaces the Pier Bridge with a bridge that would serve bikes, pedestrians, emergency vehicles, and limited deliveries, coupled with a second bridge at Moss Avenue to serve vehicles entering the parking area, all in compliance with applicable law and codes.

As referenced above, the two-bridge option eliminates the main source of pedestrian/ vehicular conflict on the Pier and would allow the City to reclaim areas previously used for vehicles that could be repurposed with new pedestrian-oriented activities and uses.


Options for the Pier Bridge

The EIR’s preferred two-bridge option presents two different approaches.  The first is a circuitous looping ramping system. The lengthy switchback ramping system requires many ramps and landings for a gradual ascent/decent for ADA compliance. The length of the ramping requires the final landing onto the Pier to occur past the Carousel building.


A second option, which the SMPC requests the City evaluate, substitutes the ramping system in favor of an additional structure with an ADA-compliant slope followed by an elevator, escalators, and a staircase to fulfill accessibility requirements while also providing an enhanced pedestrian arrival experience that engages the Carousel.


It should be noted that the Pier Bridge Replacement Project is using federal transportation grant funds for highway bridges. The federal highway-bridge-replacement grant program is administrated by Caltrans on behalf of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Caltrans has determined that the proposed structure containing the elevator/escalator/stairs is not eligible for reimbursement due to reliability concerns in the event of mechanical issues or interruptions. However, Caltrans has indicated that a structural solution, such as a fixed ramping system, would be eligible for reimbursement. Caltrans has agreed to the inclusion of the alternative proposal in the EIR for further consideration, which provides the potential for the City to pursue the proposed non-eligible betterments with City funds. The EIR would also provide the opportunity for FWHA and Caltrans to reconsider whether mechanical systems could be considered reliable.


The City’s Disabilities Commission and Commission for the Senior Community Members supported non-mechanical means of accessibility due to the reliability concerns of elevators. Elevators and escalators located in a marine environment could present maintenance and reliability issues, as well as higher operating costs. At the conclusion of the EIR process, if the elevator/escalator refinement is endorsed by Council, additional capital and maintenance funding would be necessary.


Council is not being asked to take any action on the Pier Bridge Replacement Project tonight; however, the SMPC recommends that Council consider the elevator/escalator option.  The SMPC and staff seek Council comment on the SMPC Board Recommendations.  Specific actions and projects may ultimately require CEQA review.


Twilight Concert Series (TCS)

At its meeting on January 14, 2014 (Attachments C and D), Council discussed the growth in crowd size and public safety challenges associated with the TCS and reviewed modifications to the TCS framework to reposition it as a more community-focused event with minimal beach overflow. The modifications included the following changes:

·         Limit the crowd capacity on the Pier to approximately 4,000 as determined by the Office of the Fire Marshall

·         Focus programming on emerging talent, rather than performers with a regional or   national fan base

·         Remove the jumbotron and speakers on the beach

·         Revise the layout on the beach to increase public safety control and access


As a result of the reduction in crowd size on the Pier, and collaborative efforts between SMPC and the Police and Fire departments, the concert management on the Pier deck improved in 2016 and generally functioned smoothly under the established plan. However, most concert-goers flock to the beach, which has become a regional destination on Thursday evenings.  Crowd sizes have increased further since last year’s arrival of the Expo line. For 2016, public safety staff estimated beach-crowd-size averages of between 15,000 and 20,000 people each week. The elimination of the jumbotron has not deterred attendance.  Since most beach-goers are far from the speakers, which have remained, and many are unable to hear the music, staff assumes that many attendees are there mainly to enjoy an evening with friends on the beach. The efforts to book emerging talent have also not been effective at reducing attendance since bands that may be unknown when booked, may become popular by the time of the series.  In addition, for many attendees, the band does not matter as they are there for the festive, evening beach experience.


The designation of beach lanes and quadrants has helped with public safety; however, the large crowds on the beach continue to challenge public safety personnel and require the assistance of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, as well as allied agencies, to fully staff each concert. Traffic within the entire downtown area is severely affected, to the point that last year, the Big Blue Bus was forced to re-route bus service along Fourth Street and to run a shuttle to transfer passengers. The beach is overwhelmed with trash and significant resources are required to clean up the beach after each concert, which defers regular summer beach maintenance. Although more portable restrooms were added in 2016, it is very difficult to provide a sufficient number to accommodate the large crowds. The portable restrooms need to be removed from the beach after each concert and set up the following week by Beach Maintenance staff.  The City has continued to receive complaints from neighbors regarding noise, trash, public intoxication, and urination associated with the beach crowds.



Proposed Changes for 2017 TCS

Following a citywide review of the 2016 series last fall, a smaller group of City staff and SMPC Board members and staff have been meeting regularly since December 2016 to brainstorm ways to reduce public safety costs and minimize the impacts of the popular series on neighbors, the downtown and oceanfront communities, traffic, and the beach. As a result of the discussions, SMPC has agreed to implement the following recommendations for 2017:

·                     Reduce the number of concerts from ten to eight;

·         Begin the series in mid-June rather than after July 4th to reduce the strain on resources during the full-peak summer season;

·         Market the TCS as a “green event” and develop communications to encourage   attendees to take alternative transportation;

·         Develop a traffic plan in collaboration with the City’s Transportation Division;

·         Develop a ride-sharing pick-up and drop-off lot for UBER and LYFT by the EXPO station to keep drivers out of the Ocean/Colorado area; 

·                     Expand the online RSVP system to better gauge crowed size for each concert;

·         Work with sponsors to develop beach clean-up campaigns, recruit trash ambassadors, and collaborate on solutions for increased restroom facilities; and

·         Implement an extensive and on-going coordination framework between City staff and Pier Corporation staff and their producers so that crowd sizes, based on talent, can be more accurately estimated.


The City’s costs for 2016 were approximately $1 million, primarily for public safety personnel. The SMPC has suggested increasing the number of private security personnel as a way to reduce Police staffing, as well as hiring a third party to audit the crowd size. Decisions on crowd size estimation and deployment are solely the purview of the Police and Fire Chiefs and their staff. 


At its February 22, 2017 meeting, the SMPC board approved the expenditure of $200,000 from its budget to fund added private security, additional temporary restroom facilities, and beach clean-up.  The new funds supplement the $200,000 Council authorized in 2014 for ongoing funding to the SMPC to support TCS.  Staff will recommend an allocation of an additional $600,000 as part of the recommended FY 2017-2019 budget to cover City costs. Staff will return to Council in October or November 2017 to report on the effectiveness of the proposed changes and to seek Council direction regarding the future of the Twilight Concert Series.


Commission Actions

The Study and the SMPC Board recommendations were unanimously approved by the Santa Monica Pier Board of Directors on December 17, 2015.  Since the Board’s action, a Study Group of the Board and City staff have met on an ongoing basis to ensure coordination of the findings in the ROMA study and the resulting Board recommendations with both the LCP and Pier Bridge EIR presentations which are planned to be brought to Council later this year.


Financial Impacts and Budget Actions

There is no immediate financial impact or budget action necessary as a result of the recommended actions. Funds in the amount of $600,000 for city services to support the 2017 TCS season will be included in the Proposed FY 2017-19 Biennial Budget for Council approval.



Meeting History

Mar 28, 2017 5:30 PM  City Council Regular Meeting
draft Draft