The watershed political event of the last quarter century happened Nov. 4, 2008, when voters defeated a ballot measure to temporarily curb commercial development called Measure T or the “Residents Initiative to Fight Traffic (RIFT).”

The anti-T campaign raised over three-quarters of a million dollars mostly in developer money and outspent RIFT proponents 20 to one.

Pro-development shills like Neal Payton, a principal in Silver Springs, Maryland-headquartered Torti Gallas and Partners, Inc., a “new urbanism” design firm, set up his own website "Urban Design in Santa Monica” to fight Measure T. Typical of the myths and half-truths propagated by the opponents was the garbage posted by Payton in October of 2008.

“Reducing commercial development to 75,000 square feet per year will not reduce traffic and may even increase it.” He also claimed the measure will hurt our city’s efforts to halt global warming, is biased against lower income folks, will not stop development … (and) will generate even more traffic. It “would damage the long-term viability of our city’s two major hospitals and seriously effect the ability to humanize Lincoln Boulevard and Pico …” He forget to mention that RIFT would make everyone sterile.

Unfortunately, this kind of nonsense and phony predictions such as “schools and public safety will be devastated if T passes” scared enough voters into voting “no” on T. That election day, those obsessed with making money, not making a better community, bought Santa Monica and we’re paying the price, now.

Fast forward three years. Torti Gallas and Partners was retained by City Hall on Sept. 27, 2011 for $655,500 to consult on the new Downtown Specific Plan. And, Payton is still making outlandish statements. Among Payton’s recent suggestions, “rename Lincoln Boulevard because the name ‘Lincoln’ has outlived its usefulness.” Maybe “Payton Place” would be more useful?

Payton recently told surfsantamonica.com that creating “a 20-foot margin between the curb and buildings fronting on Lincoln that can be used for decoration, benches, lighting, bike racks and trash receptacles would make Lincoln Boulevard an attractive place for pedestrians rather than a necessary trek for motorists.” Is he talking about Santa Monica’s most heavily traveled and congested thoroughfare?

With all this gentrification, where are the 48,000 vehicles that daily travel Lincoln south of the I-10 Freeway going? Maybe they’ll just evaporate into thin air. Surely, they won’t be shortcutting through Sunset Park and Ocean Park.

Payton predicted Lincoln could be a destination street echoing a similar statement by Planning Commission Chair Gerda Newbold. Apparently, Payton and Newbold don’t have their cars repaired or serviced at the many neighborhood serving “mom and pops” on Lincoln like many of us do. Someone please tell Newbold there’s more to a destination street than trendy restaurants, Starbucks, hip interior designers and chic boutiques like we already have on Montana Avenue and Main Street.

Payton also wants to reduce traffic lanes on Wilshire Boulevard between Fourth Street and Ocean Avenue. "’Wilshire Boulevard really doesn’t need the space past that point,” he said. Payton, who doesn’t believe that development contributes to traffic increases, added that the design of Wilshire Boulevard in terms of lane width is consistent all through Santa Monica.

He asked, “Do you really need all of those lanes? Creating wider walkways and more vibrant intersections along Wilshire would help pull people to the north end of the promenade, which lacks the focal point and foot traffic of its southern end.”

We’re paying good tax money for this? No wonder traffic and congestion are the major issues.

With consultants like Payton on the payroll, it will only get worse.

Urban planning in Santa Monica has been a disaster for the past 30 years. The various Civic Center Specific Plans have been so badly bungled, forget about a "World Class” town center. It’ll always be just a mish-mash of government buildings, an outdated Civic Auditorium, a 1950s-era hotel, two parking lots and RAND’s bulky corporate headquarters.

There are 318 units of tightly packed, low income and market rate housing under construction along with a $50 million park. A child care center is planned. The Civic Center has no focus and no heart. It’s just a hodge-podge of political agendas. “World Class” indeed.

There’s the enhancement of Wilshire Boulevard a few years ago with planted medians similar to the ones on 23rd Street, Montana, Pico Boulevard, Fourth Street and Broadway that narrow streets, make them difficult to drive and unsafe while also contributing to traffic congestion.

Metro transit wanted to build Expo Light Rail through Santa Monica on its own elevated tracks down Olympic Boulevard. City Council preferred the center of Colorado Avenue from 19th Street to the Fourth Street terminal. Traffic lanes and some parking on Colorado will be eliminated. Cross traffic will be gridlocked as 270-foot-long trains rumble through intersections 24 times an hour during rush hours.

Another one of City Hall’s high priced, “utopian” consultants Jeffrey Tumlin, from San Francisco-based Nelson/Nygaard, warned that placing Expo elsewhere would divide the city in half. Isn’t that exactly what the Colorado alignment does?

So, why does City Hall have a love affair with these consultants — dreamers who are more interested in planting trees and decorating sidewalks than getting folks to work and school on time? It’s all a "aren’t we too cool” mindset and has nothing to do with serving the public

How many more instances of rotten city planning do we have to endure before voters say, “Enough?”

Traffic counts for Lincoln Boulevard courtesy of Caltrans, Average Daily Vehicle count, 2010. Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com.

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