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A Big Blue Bus leaves the parking yard on Colorado Boulevard Thursday afternoon. BBB will receive more than $12 million under the federal stimulus, which will be spent on new, hybrid buses, creating jobs for a Riverside-based bus manufacturer and Goodyear, which supplies the tires. (photo by Brandon Wise)

DOWNTOWN — While it may not be the kind of “shovel ready” project that most people have in mind when they think of the $787 billion in stimulus funding meant to create much-needed jobs, the contract Big Blue Bus has to purchase 15 new hybrid buses is putting people to work all the same.

BBB is expected to receive $12.8 million in stimulus funding from the federal government and use a large portion of that to purchase 15 hybrids from ElDorado National in Riverside. BBB original plan was to purchase only five buses to be used on MiniBlue routes throughout Santa Monica, but when the stimulus check came in, the bus company increased its order.

That means more work for employees at ElDorado, as well as Goodyear, which supplies the tires, and other local companies that are responsible for building the fueling system to power the buses, paint them and deliver them to Santa Monica.

“It’s like tossing a rock into a pond,” said Dan Dawson, marketing director for BBB. “It creates a lot of ripples.”

BBB also plans to use stimulus funding to purchase three articulated buses and three, 40-foot alternative fuel buses to replace those that currently run on bio-diesel and were purchased in 1997. With the purchase, BBB will have a fleet entirely comprised of LNG and hybrid buses.

While the stimulus funding will not offset changes to bus schedules enacted because of cuts from the state level, Dawson said the money allows BBB to lay the ground work for the future by upgrading its infrastructure. Many of the new buses will help connect residents and visitors to the Exposition Light Rail Line. The buses are cleaner and quieter than those currently operating on some MiniBlue routes, which often travel down residential streets, creating a concern for neighbors. The new buses are expected to bring some relief, Dawson said.

Tony Wayne, president of ElDorado National California, refused to comment on the BBB contract.

Dawson said BBB was fortunate because it had a contract in place with ElDorado before the stimulus was approved, putting it in a great position to lobby for funds because it was shovel ready.

City Hall has a few projects that meet that criteria. During a visit to Washington, D.C. last week, city officials and local business leaders met with lawmakers from Southern California, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Henry Waxman, made their pitch for funding, demonstrating how City Hall is ready and waiting.

A major project discussed involves creating a storage tank under Memorial Park that could hold one million gallons of recycled water to be used for irrigation, helping Santa Monica reduce its water usage, which is key given the current drought California is experiencing, said John Bohn, past president of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, who was in D.C. working with the Santa Monica coalition’s water team.

“What was a great surprise to me was when we were shown pictures of various reservoirs in the state and how they normally appear and where we are now,” Bohn said. “We are facing a real water problem.”

The trip not only gave officials a chance to talk about particular projects locally, but to also network with representatives from Northern California, where work needs to be done updating the water system.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement Tuesday in which he identified the water system as a priority when it comes to spending stimulus dollars. The state’s Department of Transportation will begin replacing two bridges in Merced County, the first stimulus-funded project in California. It could mean more than 840 jobs there alone. California leaders have already approved plans to use $625 million on 57 transportation projects statewide, according to MSNBC.

By building the storage tank at Memorial Park, City Hall could increase storage capacity to 1.5 million gallons, 500,000 of which already comes from the Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility, or SMURRF.

Kate Vernez, the assistant to the city manager in charge of intergovernmental relations, said City Hall received authorization for the project and now is awaiting funding.

Conserving water in Santa Monica is crucial given that City Hall imports 80 percent of its drinking water from the Metropolitan Water District because wells in the city are contaminated with MtBE, a dangerous fuel additive that leaked into the groundwater. City Hall is in the process of cleaning the wells thanks to a multi-million dollar settlement with three major oil companies.

During the D.C. trip, city officials also asked for money to help repair and maintain streets, in particular Santa Monica Boulevard. There was also a request for new traffic signal upgrades, all of which are shovel-ready projects, Vernez said.

“The money is out there and they want to spend it quickly,” she said. “We want to make sure we are standing in line.”

Other projects include a sewer main replacement, upgrades to the drinking water system and purchasing more computers for libraries. City Hall also asked for money to help with upgrades to the Santa Monica Pier infrastructure.

“It was a very productive meeting,” Vernez said. “Very much on point.”

kevinh@smdp.com