The “State of the City” conference sponsored by City Hall and the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce was held recently. It was a virtual lovefest for Metro (Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority) and its Expo light rail line. City and business leaders received breathless updates on the incoming rail line scheduled to connect Santa Monica to Downtown Los Angeles sometime in 2016.
After all the mutual back-slapping, you‚Äôd think that Expo is the best thing to happen to the city since the Santa Monica Pier, which may explain all the outright Pollyannish observations.
Metro honchos gushed about how many jobs (thousands) Expo will create, the amazing opportunity for local development (lots of affordable housing clustered around the rail route) and the money (billions of dollars) Expo will generate locally just in its first three decades of service.
Martha Welborne, Metro‚Äôs executive director for planning told the assembly that the projected countywide system will bring people from all over the L.A. basin into Santa Monica. She boasted about¬† “unparalleled opportunities for local residents to live and work closer together.”¬† Wow! I know that‚Äôs what everyone wants: to be able to live and work even closer together than we do now.
Rick Thorpe, head of the Exposition Construction Authority, said that increasing density (development) around stations would mean, “people don‚Äôt need to use cars, (because) everything is right there.”
There was so much smoke being blown up attendees‚Äô behinds, that I‚Äôm surprised the fire department wasn‚Äôt called. Is Thorpe just uninformed or fantasizing when he says people living near transit routes don‚Äôt need cars?
Does he really believe residents in even low income, transit adjacent housing don‚Äôt own and operate personal vehicles for shopping, visiting friends and relatives and driving to and from a whole slew of activities not convenient to transit routes?¬† Even causal observers know that most tenants in Community Corporation of Santa Monica‚Äôs (CCSM) subsidized housing own and drive cars. Many CCSM units house multiple drivers who own their own cars.
Claims that Expo Phase 2 (into Santa Monica) will reduce local traffic is meaningless. Metro‚Äôs own environmental studies state that, at the very best, traffic congestion will stay the same for a couple of years after Expo starts operations and then become worse, again.
Speaking of Expo, beginning Feb. 18, eastbound lanes of Colorado Avenue between Fourth and Fifth streets will be permanently closed for construction to allow trains to cross to and from the future terminus at Fourth and Colorado. Other traffic restrictions will also be implemented, so take caution.
A bill of goods
I haven‚Äôt had time to fully digest the 61-page “Parking Zoning Ordinance Update” draft plan presented to the Planning Commission last Wednesday by the “King of the Unicorns,” City Hall‚Äôs favorite consultant, Jeffrey Tumlin from Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates, Inc., The plan which basically advocates for reducing parking in new developments already has me fuming.
Tumlin‚Äôs spurious thesis is that cheap, convenient parking encourages more driving which leads to more traffic congestion and affects City Hall‚Äôs ability to reach the sustainability goals stated in the recently adopted Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE), which will direct development for years to come.
Tumlin states that lowering parking requirements would save construction costs because developers won‚Äôt have to build garages, therefore the savings would be passed on to both commercial and residential tenants as lower rents. As with much that Tumlin pontificates about, it‚Äôs unsubstantiated, wishful thinking. Developers will pocket any savings.
Tumlin also recommends reducing market parking requirements by as much as 75 percent. Obviously, he doesn‚Äôt shop at Trader Joe‚Äôs or Whole Foods. Retail developments on major transit streets could provide less parking too, and visitor parking in new residential buildings would be eliminated.
Worse yet, Tumlin‚Äôs plan allows city officials to waive “up to 100 percent” of parking requirements for “smaller projects advancing city goals” such as historical preservation. It could even apply to projects that embrace “alternative mode infrastructure” (bicycle racks) or transportation demand management plans that provide bus/rail passes for employees.
A related parking study conducted by Gibson Transportation Consultants, Inc., declares there‚Äôs an “overabundance of parking” on residential streets adjacent to commercial blocks¬† ‚Äî an assertion that many residents and Montana Avenue shoppers, for example, differ with.
The study was criticized for being conducted in August when the high influx of tourists could skew results. More problematic was the inclusion of private, non-public parking lots in the parking space counts and the inclusion of “empty streets” on street cleaning days when the study was conducted.
So how did our planning commissioners react to all this hokum? Commissioner Richard McKinnon was quoted in the Daily Press saying, “We can‚Äôt just jam it down people‚Äôs throats. There is an education process that needs to go on, and it has to happen very rapidly.”
Commission Chair Gerda Paumgarten Newbold said, “These concepts are not new and scary to us, but they are to other people ‚Ä¶ We really need to convince people this is going to work.”
Are we surprised that some delusional starry-eyed commissioners have bought into flawed research, an anti-parking, private vehicle bias and overzealous sustainability advocacy? No common sense here, just agenda.
Commissioners must stop chasing rainbows and come to grips with hard, cold reality. We don‚Äôt have to shop, dine or entertain ourselves here ‚Äî Los Angeles is right next door. When “pie in the sky” proposals to eliminate parking and make driving more difficult come to fruition, we‚Äôll all stop patronizing Santa Monica businesses, period.
So much for the “State of the City.”
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org