The ink was barely dry on last Monday’s Daily Press with my column about pending changes in maximum speed limits on a number of city streets when my phone started ringing.

Callers reported city crews were already changing speed limit signs on Wilshire Boulevard from 35 mph to 30 mph even though the City Council hadn’t approved speed limit changes.

I called Sam Morrisey, City Hall’s principal transportation engineer, who confirmed that city crews were indeed installing new signage on Wilshire Boulevard and other streets including Ocean Park Boulevard (omitted from last week’s list) east of 23rd Street where the maximum allowable speed would “officially” drop from 40 mph to 35 mph with council’s approval.

Morrisey said the City Council had approved a first reading of the ordinance, so assuming they will approve new speed limits at their next meeting on Sept. 8, “We went ahead and began changing signs. By changing signs now, we’re giving motorists a ‘heads up’ that the speed limits will change.”

Most of the recommended speed changes are 5 mph less than the current limits but two Downtown streets will have 5 mph higher limits than current limits. Sgt. Larry Horn, the Santa Monica Police Department’s lead officer on traffic enforcement, told me the new limits won’t be enforced until 30-days after City Council approves the new speed limits — meaning early October.

Morrisey admits that he authorized the replacement of signs. While I think he jumped the gun by ordering the new signage while new speed limits were pending, Sgt. Horn thought it was good that the motoring public be given as much advance warning as possible.

But, I’m disturbed that a city employee would take it upon himself to repost speed limits when the governing body of the city has not approved those limits. While I agree that council will probably approve the changes, it’s possible some members might not approve all of staff’s recommendations, thus creating motorist confusion especially if reinstallation of recently changed signage on one or more thoroughfares is necessary.

Everyone wants Expo, nobody wants dirt

The proposed maintenance facility for the Exposition Light Rail Phase 2 expansion into Santa Monica still is generating a lot of heat. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is specifying the Verizon property — a 7-acre industrial property adjacent to Stewart Street and Exposition Boulevard — for its Expo Light Rail train storage and maintenance yard.

Pico Neighborhood resident (and school board member) Oscar de la Torre wrote a letter to all the local media a few weeks ago. Tossing around terms such as “toxic triangle” and “environmental injustice” as only Oscar can, he laid out a case that City Hall and the MTA are discriminating against the neighborhood by asking residents to “shoulder the burden” by accepting another noisy, pollution-generating facility in the Pico neighborhood.

He wrote that the proposed rail yard would be in addition to negative environmental impacts originating from the nearby I-10 Freeway, a recycling center and two solid waste facilities in the immediate area.

While I share de la Torre’s concerns about noise, chemicals and other factors that may be harmful to the local environment, a lot of people should have seen this coming long ago.

Expo’s maintenance yard along with other more serious impacts -— including exacerbation of traffic problems and public safety due to trains running down the middle of Colorado Avenue -— were ignored and glossed over by promises of an “exciting new era in transportation” and a ”solution to traffic problems” by transit cheerleaders, City Hall bureaucrats and local politicians. But now, the realities are beginning to settle in.

The January, 2009 Draft Environmental Impact Report drafted by the Expo Construction Authority and approved a couple months ago by the governing MTA Board of Directors noted that the Verizon site was the obvious choice after extensive and lengthy analysis of numerous other locations that were deemed inadequate.

Because of the growing number of complaints about a rail yard across the street from residences, politicians and city staff are grasping at straws to deflect complaints and placate the public. One proposal is to shift part of the facility across Stewart Street and further away from homes.

Another flawed scheme suggests using two square city blocks bounded by Colorado, Olympic Boulevard, Ninth and 11th streets as a possible site. Numerous other locations along the Olympic/Colorado corridor have also been reviewed but all have suitability problems including security, access, size, location or closeness to residences.

I’d bet the family Prius that residents near these other potential sites, like de la Torre, will also be screaming about their own “environmental injustice” if the yard is relocated to their neighborhoods. I predict Expo’s maintenance yard will be built on the Verizon property. City Hall needs to stop chasing its tail and start spending its resources on ways to mitigate its noise and pollution.

Bill Bauer can be contacted at mr.bilbau@gmail.com.