Thursday, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education approved a 33-person committee (everyone who applied) to examine the feasibility of an emergency temporary parcel tax to offset reductions in state funding and explore another school construction bond measure.

Emergency? According to Jan Maez, SMMUSD’s chief financial officer quoted in State Sen. Fran Pavley’s July newsletter, “The $4.5 million eliminated from the 2009-10 budget means class size increases in elementary schools from 20-to-1 to 23-to-1, and by one student at the higher grades. The good news is all cuts have been accomplished through attrition, not layoffs.”

This emergency seems more like another case of Chicken Little’s “the sky is falling!” And, we all know that no tax is temporary, especially in our free-spending district. Last year’s Measure R parcel tax renewal was proof of that.

The SMMUSD has a voracious appetite for money, more money and even more money. A national recession, record unemployment figures and residential real estate prices falling to 2004 levels is no deterrent here, even so $50,000 is being spent to research how to “sell” these ill-timed measures to voters in today’s troubled economy.

The committee itself is loaded with school cheerleaders; attorneys and well-to-do, recession-proof limousine liberals. It includes a major apartment landlord and former mayor and Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights board member Denny Zane, who never met a tax he didn’t love.

Needed or not, this stacked committee will handily recommend another unfair, regressive school tax — but, how much? Also at issue are exemptions. Current parcel taxes exempt senior property owners regardless of income, but not low income renters — senior or otherwise. And, all parcels are currently taxed equally. A tiny condo pays the same tax as a luxury hotel, commercial building, apartment or office complex. How inequitable is that?

The proposed parcel tax could be before voters within a few months and be followed by another $400-million school bond measure. A parcel tax recommendation is due before the board by Sept. 10 and their “Phase 2” bond plan before March 4, 2010 for approvals.

Speed trap ahead

On Aug. 11, the City Council began the process to modify speed limits on many streets. As a result of a 3-year-old traffic survey (conducted June and July, 2006) the city’s Municipal Code will likely be changed to adjust maximum allowable speeds on 14 streets during council’s next meeting in September. Another reason given for the speed reductions was complaints from residents about speeding and reckless motorists during recent Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) community meetings.

If approved, maximum allowable speed limits would decrease on Olympic Boulevard between 11th and 15th Streets from 45 to 40 miles per hour. Wilshire Boulevard from Lincoln Boulevard to Centinela Avenue would drop from 35 mph to 30 mph.

Fifth Street between Montana Avenue and Wilshire and Fourth Street from San Vicente Boulevard to Wilshire and from Pico Boulevard to the southern city limit would fall from 30 mph to 25 mph. Main Street from Pico to the southern city limit and Ocean Avenue between Pico and Hollister Avenue both will drop to 25 mph from 30 mph.

Increased speeds are recommended for Colorado Avenue between Ocean and Lincoln (our future Grande Promenade?) where the 25 mph would become 30 mph. On Second Street between Wilshire and Colorado, the current 25 mph limit would rise to 30 mph.

Some of these changes make no sense. For example, raising the speed limit on congested Second Street Downtown is ludicrous. Conversely, reducing the speed limit on Wilshire will add to congestion and exacerbate shortcutting through adjacent Mid-City residential neighborhoods — exactly where residents and smart transportation planners shouldn’t want traffic to go.

Unfortunately, our chaotic traffic management planning doesn’t move people efficiently, it’s only about slowing everyone down. Seizing every opportunity it can to aggravate citywide gridlock, City Council will also ask Caltrans to relinquish control of 1.2 miles of busy Lincoln Boulevard south of Interstate 10.

Already, city planners are salivating over installing planted medians (Mayor Ken Genser doesn’t like open space on major thoroughfares) and other “beautification” measures. Exclusive rush hour bike and bus only lanes, approved a few years ago, are only waiting until Los Angeles implements a similar scheme on Lincoln in Venice. Curb bumpouts, reduced traffic capacity, flashing crosswalks and other “enhancements” are in the mix. It may look pretty, but it’ll be hellish, if not impossible, to drive.

Street level, light rail train movement promises to massively gridlock mid-city’s north/south surface traffic when Expo opens around 2015 and that’s without City Hall’s misguided glamorization schemes to jam Lincoln traffic even more. Commuters will beeline to Fourth, 11th, 14th, 20th, 23rd, Pearl and other residential streets throughout Ocean and Sunset parks to avoid the mess.

Neighbors beware! Your worst traffic nightmare is on the drawing boards.

Bill Bauer can be reached at when not speeding down Lincoln Boulevard.

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