Your article titled “Council considers new major bike route,” (Feb. 10, page 1) is partial and does not represent the full story on the proposed MANGo project. To be clear, the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA) voted to support MANGo when we were assured by the city staff that there would be no loss of parking and no barricades/diverters would be used. We want to see improvements to Michigan Avenue that will make it safe, clean, beautiful and green. We support street improvements on Michigan Avenue that will benefit bicyclists, pedestrians and will increase safety for Samohi students. The main issue that was left out of the article was the city staff’s role in circumventing the input of residents that would be directly impacted by the barricade/diverter that would encapsulate residents living west of 11th Street. This is another example of City Hall pushing a contrary agenda while refusing to be inclusive of resident input.
According to the 2011 staff report, Michigan Avenue will be transformed from a residential street into a “superior connection for bicycles to get to the Bergamot Centers, Exposition Light Rail stations to Downtown Santa Monica.” There is a clear connection between the Hines development and MANGo. In 2011, the city received a $154,000 Caltrans “Environmental Justice” grant. In the grant application, the city promised to engage low-income and minority residents in the planning of a vision to create a Michigan Avenue Bike Boulevard. However, the initial outreach process for the MANGo ignored Spanish speaking residents in the Pico Neighborhood contrary to the terms of the contract. During the outreach phase for the workshops and the pop up, none of the materials were done in Spanish. This excluded a large number of our diverse residents in the public process. City staff stated that they satisfied the promises made in the grant by having a person walking around during the MANGo pop up event with a button on their shirt that read “preguntame” — ask me. He also stated that the city of Santa Monica had no plans or resources to rectify this issue with additional workshops or outreach. This is not only ineffective; it also gives the community the sense that their demographic profile is being “used” to attain funds for a vision of their neighborhood that does not include them.
The pop up MANGo event, while entertaining and colorful, failed to objectively gather input on the proposed project from Pico Neighborhood residents. After the pop up event in September 2013, the PNA determined that community input gathered on post-its and little scraps of paper at these events and workshops was inadequate and did not legitimately survey or address the concerns of local residents. We asked the City Manager’s Office to conduct a survey in order to assess the impact of major changes to street accessibility and the impact to the local residents. This request was denied and the PNA board voted to move forward with a bi-lingual survey in order to gather legitimate community input from residents, particularly in the areas most directly impacted by the proposed MANGo.
150 residents (90 English speaking; 60 Spanish speaking) were asked for their opinions on various aspects of the MANGo. Over 95 percent of those surveyed rejected traffic diverters and barricades on 11th Street at Michigan and Lincoln Court at Michigan. Following the completion of the survey, the PNA board endorsed the MANGo survey results and sent a letter to city staff endorsing the MANGo as a whole, with the exception of the traffic diverters. We were assured by city staff that traffic diverters, barricades and chicanes were “off the table,” and thus we were quite shocked to see in the “Draft Improvements Map” presented on Jan. 7, 2014, a “Potential for Future Traffic Diverter” on 11th and Michigan and chicanes on several neighborhood streets.
Much like the Hines and A-lot controversy we should all be concerned with the city staff’s practice of pitting residents against each other to advance an already pre-determined plan, ignoring objective resident input and using deceit in dealing with resident leaders. The City Council must rein in what seems to be a city staff that is increasingly out of touch with residents and adamant in pushing their own agenda resorting to disingenuous tactics to suppress resident input. This is endemic of what is wrong with the relationship between residents and City Hall and why residents are going to extreme measures such as referendums to have their voices heard. The city staff should be working to facilitate the implementation of a vision derived from the residents who call Santa Monica home. Furthermore, the PNA welcomes the majority of the MANGo project as an opportunity for the city of Santa Monica to reverse the historic dumping of hurtful development in the Pico Neighborhood.
Will anyone at City Hall hear our plea?
Oscar de la Torre is Co-Chair of the Pico Neighborhood Association Board of Directors and is a Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District school board member.