City Council approved a slew of small measures, discussed the future of taxis in Santa Monica and didn’t pick a new Planning Commissioner at its meeting Tuesday night.
Taxis were the topic of the night: Rides were down 27 percent last year and a franchise, which allows five companies to operate in the city, expires at the end of this year.
Four of the five companies wrote to council suggesting that they extend the franchise but one company, the largest, wants council to cut it down to two companies in order to decrease supply and meet the shrinking demand.
Councilmember Gleam Davis listed a bunch of advantages taxis have over ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft that she’d like to see continued or accentuated.
“I care less about what we do and more about what our goals are,” she told council.
Davis expressed support for the relationships cabbies develop with residents, particularly seniors, and the fact that they are regulated to drive environmentally sustainable vehicles.
“One of the reasons for getting all the excess cabs off the street is to make sure that drivers that were franchised could make a living,” she said. “That remains a very important criteria for me.”
Councilmember Ted Winterer agreed with recommendations to adjust the number of cabs authorized to drive in the city. He also suggested a system that would allow more drivers on the street during the hours where demand is highest.
Councilmember Sue Himmelrich said she supports allowing taxi drivers more flexible pricing than previously offered “as long as it’s not surge pricing.”
She, too, expressed an interest in reducing the total number of cabs.
Mayor Pro Tempore Tony Vazquez said he’s not convinced that a cab reduction is the answer but said he’d like to hear city officials’ ideas on the matter.
Mayor Kevin McKeown agreed, saying he’d rather even the playing field, which he believes unfairly benefits ride-hailing apps.
City officials are coming back later this year with official recommendations as to how to proceed with the next taxi franchise.
Still no Planning Commissioner
With Councilmember Terry O’Day missing council’s special meeting last Tuesday — it was rescheduled from the week prior because so many people had prior engagements — his colleagues opted to once again delay a vote to fill a vacancy on the Planning Commission created by the election of Councilmember Sue Himmelrich back in November.
Council has an unofficial policy that it does not fill a big vacant seat without a full dais, but some members are getting restless.
“I would like to suggest that if we can’t get seven for some reason next week, I think we’re getting to the point where we can’t put it off much longer,” Winterer said. “The Planning Commission will be handing off the zoning ordinance to us and they have stuff to do, and I think we need to fill that seat.”
Davis was less concerned, noting that she remembers seats remaining unfilled for months.
“It’s not the end of the world to have a Planning Commission that only has six people on it,” she said. “I want to get them a seventh, but I think it’s important with this particular commission to respect our process and our collegiality of having seven members if it all possible.”
Interim City Manager Elaine Polachek told the council that a full dais is expected for the regularly scheduled meeting this week.