SUNSET PARK — Preferential parking passes, bus routes and parking in new buildings will all be getting reviewed by City Hall as officials move forward with policy changes meant to reshape how Santa Monica deals with cars and alternative modes of travel.
That was the message that emerged from a four-person panel of city officials, policy makers and residents over a lively round of questions concerning parking and traffic policy at the Santa Monica Democratic Club meeting Wednesday night.
Planning Director David Martin, Ocean Park resident Mary Marlow and planning commissioners Jennifer Kennedy and Richard McKinnon took questions without the buffer usually afforded in public meetings as residents tried to discover what mix of parking, mass transit changes and other policies would result in the Santa Monica they want — one with adequate parking for residents and free-flowing streets.
The answer — we’re working on that, but be prepared for some changes.
The much-lauded Land Use and Circulation Element, adopted by the City Council in 2010 to plot the future of development, dictated that a 10 percent reduction in cars on Santa Monica’s streets would solve the bumper-to-bumper congestion that frustrates many residents.
How, exactly, to achieve those savings has been the work of the intervening years, and resulted in a plan to facilitate bicycle travel in the city, a new zoning ordinance currently in the works and a pedestrian plan to make the city more walkable.
“The whole idea is to give people options to provide other means of mobility around the city,” Martin said.
Where residents will park cars when they’re not using them also came up for discussion. There are between 40 and 50 areas in the city where residents purchase a parking pass for the exclusive right to park on-street without a time limit.
That hasn’t stopped employees from major business corridors from taking advantage of free parking for two hours and then scurrying out to move the car before parking enforcement officers hand them a pricey ticket.
“Maybe we should be charging. As residents, we have parking permits. Why should those streets be free any other time those people want to park there?” asked Cynthia Rose, a bicycle advocate.
Martin acknowledged that City Hall is taking a new look at the preferential parking program that exists, including a model where outsiders would pay to park. A pilot program on that front may be forthcoming, he said.
That ticked off Marilyn Noyse, a West Los Angeles resident who felt that small businesses in the area depend on that two-hour parking in the residential neighborhoods so customers can make quick trips inside. People from the Westside won’t take public transportation for those excursions, she said.
“You people are living in a dream world,” Noyse said.
The practice of separating the cost of a parking space from the cost of an apartment’s rent also drew scorn from the crowd, who believed that any effort to do so would result in a bidding war that would force out low- and moderate-income residents.
“You’re not looking at the economic reality of what happens when you decouple parking. Is this goodbye diversity, that only the wealthy can afford it? Is that what we want?” Marlow asked.
Parking professionals, like Juan Matute, a UCLA researcher who attended the meeting, believe that cost is implicit in the rent as it is, and that it unfairly burdens those who choose to live without a car.
The meeting demonstrated the power parking and traffic hold over the residents of the city by the sea — it pulled in near record-breaking attendance with 40 people and a deficit of chairs in the hall of Mount Olive Lutheran Church, said Maryanne Solomon, new co-president of the club.
“Clearly this is a topic on people’s minds,” she told the crowd.
A recent survey conducted on behalf of City Hall showed the same result.
Although the survey results came with many statistical caveats, it reported that 28 percent of Santa Monicans listed traffic and congestion as one of the top two issues in the city and 13 percent picked parking deficit amongst the top two.
Both were considered amongst the top five “most serious” problems facing Santa Monica.
Efforts to tackle the problem of parking and congestion through the planning process have been met with suspicion from residents, who see proposed parking standards that lessen the amount of parking needed for new development as a gift to real estate developers.
The most recent face of such a policy was consultant Jeffrey Tumlin of Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates. He came under a barrage of public fire, first for an unflattering statement of Santa Monica residents in his online biography, but also for recommendations that would have cut the amount of parking required of new developments dramatically.
Under those recommendations presented at the Jan. 30 Planning Commission meeting, a new supermarket would have to build a quarter of the parking required under the existing code, and some residential developments would be able to reduce their per-unit parking by one-third and ax visitor parking.
The proposal led one resident who attended to exclaim, “We’re residents; we’re not a social experiment.”
While public policy experts who study parking maintain that reducing future parking is one of the few ways to reliably cut down on traffic — the “if you build it, they will come” mentality — the culture clash with residents led Planning Commissioner Richard McKinnon to propose a meeting of the minds at next Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting.
“We are receptive to almost any idea that can lead us forward and begin to unlock the problem that we’ve got,” he said. “We need community-wide engagement for that to happen, and for community voices to be heard in City Hall very loudly and very clearly.”