Opinion: WeHo’s Parking Garage – from ‘Gee Whiz’ to ‘Golly Gee’

WeHo's automated garage as viewed from Sweetzer Avenue.
WeHo’s automated garage as viewed from Sweetzer Avenue.

It has been touted as practically the Eighth Wonder of the World. The automated garage behind City Hall has been loudly proclaimed to demonstrate that the little City of West Hollywood is on the cutting edge of creative technology.

I have used the structure several times, and it is pretty cool to think how you leave your car in a box that shuffles it around the four-story structure as if it were in a gigantic pinball machine.

But once you get over the “gee whiz” factor, the $18 million structure loses a lot of its glamour. It is a lot like dating a model; it seems very exciting at first but you very quickly realize this is a very expensive proposition with a lot of faults that did not seem immediately obvious.

West Hollywood City Council candidate Steve Martin
Steve Martin

On a good day, the wait time for your car is six or seven minutes. If it is lunch hour or near the time when City Hall is closing, it can be 15 or 20 minutes, maybe longer. This is a sore point with City Hall employees.

The larger problem is that there is a growing list of vehicles that are prohibited from using the robo-garage. A notice about a meeting was put out by the city that warned attendees that very small cars and very large cars should think about parking across the street at the Kings Road parking structure. Apparently large handicap-equipped vehicles cannot be accommodated in the garage, which may be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

When you ask the parking attendant about which vehicles can’t use the garage, with great reluctance he will give you a partial answer. After a recent meeting at City Hall I asked the attendant what sort of vehicles should not use the garage? He promptly responded “exotics.” What was an “exotic”? I queried. “Sports cars, like a Corvette” he replied. At this point it was clear he was hoping this was the end of our conversation, but I thought he was being a bit evasive. “What about Mini Coopers?” I asked, already knowing the answer. He admitted Mini Coopers should not use the garage. The person next to me then asked him “what else?”, to which he added “Smart cars, anything low to the ground.” Apparently most models of the Prius are okay but I would be careful about a Miata. The attendant didn’t offer any information about which larger vehicles were banned as he found it was a good time to make himself scarce.

Small vehicles that are low to the ground, the sort of design which is become increasing important to hybrids and energy efficient vehicles, are the wave of the future for the auto industry, but are banned in West Hollywood’s user-unfriendly parking garage of the future. It seems odd that city staff would not have mentioned the limitations on the models of vehicles that can access the structure when the City Council was debating the issue. Unless of course staff was unaware of the issue, which opens up another can of worms.

This leads us to the issue of the expense of the structure. Because the garage’s technology is so sensitive, it needs a full time attendant, an expensive feature we don’t have in the parking structures at the West Hollywood library.

The math never made sense for this structure. Eighteen million dollars is a lot of money for a 200-car garage, particularly given that we already owned the land. When you recall that the original parking lot behind City Hall had approximately 50 parking spaces, the price tag translates to paying $18 million to build 150 parking spaces. The math works out to $120,000 a parking space for the 150 new spaces.

Given the limitations of the land, the city said it needed to install high tech gadgets to maximize the number of spaces in the garage. Of course the city could have build a conventional parking garage without all the gizmos for $6 or $7 million dollars, which might have only had a total of 150 spaces, but saving the tax payers $10 or $12 million dollars.

But then we are told not to worry. The structure will not be paid for with general fund revenue but financed by a “revenue bond.” Revenue bonds are bonds that are not paid from the city’s general fund but are paid by revenue generated by users of the facility. But since most of the users are City Hall employees, it seems the taxpayers are picking up most of the tab for the robo-garage. Of course if the garage does not generate sufficient income to pay the bond, we know who is going to pick up the short fall.

Aside from the cost to staff the structure, the structure is a maze of moving mechanical parts that need to be regularly maintained, replaced and repaired, a cost not generally associated with a standard parking structure. These costs will be paid from the general fund.

As I had pointed out when the City Council discussed this project, there were reasons Santa Monica has not built a second robo-garage after its experience with its first one. Unfortunately that lesson was lost on the third floor at City Hall. My sources have told me that some staff members had expressed reservations about this project but soon found out it was professionally prudent to keep their professional opinions to themselves. What is the point of hiring talented staff if we are not going to avail ourselves of their opinions and expertise? Transparency in decision making is not considered a virtue at City Hall under the current regime.

So the automatic garage will be a gift that keeps on giving; a monument to good government gone bad.

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Steve Martin
Steve Martin
3 years ago

Thanks for remembering!!!!

kab1200
kab1200
4 years ago

Perhaps if Steve Martin had let City Hall be built by West Hollywood park, where it should be, this would not be an issue.

J Simmons
J Simmons
4 years ago

@FollowTheMoney To answer your question.
Initially it was imagined to have rooms and public space on top of the planned garage. That was the pre-engineers idea. But too heavy and needed space on roof for machines, elevators, venting etc…

J Simmons
J Simmons
4 years ago

Steve Martin Nice try to point out the actual problems, outrageous cost, and continued uncertainty who can park there. I started YEARS ago, before anything had even been approved, detailing those three MAJOR problems and others. Q: Do City Hall Employees and Elected Offices get a jump in line when they want their cars? Initially (as John Duran brought the garage up in council “NO FOR THE FUN STIFF” I believe 2011). There was a statement City Hall Staff et al will get an App for their iPhones to “call for their car? All fairly irrelevant now it’s done and… Read more »

stvr
stvr
4 years ago

But, hey, all the carbon… emissions… saved… ???

Follow the Money
Follow the Money
4 years ago

Check this out. Wasn’t one of those women from Plummer Park always yapping about this?

http://www.weho.org/Home/ShowDocument?id=1131

Look at page 2. The West Hollywood City Hall Community Service Center will include a “one- stop” service center, an increase in the number of public meeting rooms and increased parking opportunities for residents and businesses in the area.

So what happened? Anyone know?

EricW
EricW
4 years ago

Maybe it can be converted into a robot bike parking garage in the future?
They have these in Japan, might be a more productive use in a few years.

Brian Holt
Brian Holt
4 years ago

Steve Martin for WeHo City Council. Please, do us all a favor — and run.

Trapped in the robogarage.
Trapped in the robogarage.
4 years ago

It would be nice to know exactly who came up with this idea and what combination of individuals and events got the ball rolling that received rubber stamp kudos. Confounding!

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
4 years ago

Good one Allison; I do appreciate the humor.

Michael Lewis
Michael Lewis
4 years ago

The cost doubles when you add the financing costs.

Shawn Thompson
4 years ago

I advocated against the project. Interesting to read that so many now in the community are not happy at all with the $18 million cost verus what the community got