Every school day, Beth Leder-Pack prepares for chaos.
It’s what she’s come to expect on the roads surrounding Santa Monica High School as drivers, cyclists, skateboarders and pedestrians head to the campus in droves in a frantic morning frenzy.
“It’s very stressful, and it feels very unsafe,” said Leder-Pack, the mother of a Samohi student. “Kids are in a rush, parents are trying to get through, and it’s a matter of volume. A lot of people and cars are converging on one area at a particular time. It feels like danger.”
Leder-Pack is one of numerous parents clamoring for the City of Santa Monica and the local police department to address traffic and safety concerns during drop-off and pick-up times at Santa Monica-Malibu school district’s busiest site.
Their worries arose following changes to streets in the area, which were meant to reduce congestion while improving pathways for Samohi students who bike or walk to school.
Renovations in the area began in June following City Council approval of the project, which is part of the city’s Safe Routes to School initiative to promote alternative modes of transportation. Signage and striping are expected to be completed by the end of the year.
“I don’t think the issues were totally thought through,” Leder-Pack said. “It looks good in theory, but practically speaking it’s not really working.”
She and numerous other parents would like the Santa Monica Police Department to reinstate a crossing guard at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and 7th Street despite the creation of one-way traffic on Michigan west of Lincoln Boulevard and on 7th south of Michigan.
SMMUSD spokeswoman Gail Pinsker said the district has heard complaints from parents about the gridlock but that the problems must be addressed by the City.
In a message to Samohi parents, principal Eva Mayoral said the crossing guard position was reportedly eliminated due to city budget constraints.
“I agree that a crossing guard is needed,” said Mayoral, who brought the matter to the attention of district Superintendent Sandra Lyon. “I’ve expressed this to the SMPD and to the City. We have been told that the crossing guard present earlier in the year was there only to support student safety during active construction.”
Samohi PTSA president Joan Krenik said a crossing guard should have been funded by the project and that parents believe the City should pay for one now. She called the current situation “unsafe for all involved.”
City officials and district leaders are looking into other options for managing pedestrian and vehicle flow during peak times, City spokeswoman Debbie Lee said.
“Samohi site access is a continuing project,” she said, “and the school and City work together on refinements and adjustments as school operations change and street conditions evolve.”
The SMPD is planning to hold a Nov. 18 training for campus security officers so they can assist with traffic and crossing, Pinsker said, but Mayoral believes those duties go beyond their job descriptions.
“We understand that with new traffic patterns there may be some temporary congestion as students and parents get used to it,” Pinsker said. “The City has assured us that this new pattern was done to improve student safety on the east side of campus. We encourage students and adults, whether walking, biking or in a car, to stay alert and move through the area with patience and caution.”
But parents contend that patience and caution might not be enough to solve the traffic and safety problems.
Parents said they’ve heard from police and city officials that high school students are old enough to get to school without help, but they note that the presence of a crossing guard helped in previous years.
“What’s it going to cost them: a guard now or a lawsuit later?” said Pala, a Samohi mother who said she has one legal name. “Kids are jumping out of cars in the middle of the road and darting between cars, and they don’t really recognize that they’re in danger. It’s just insane. This is dangerous. This is beyond dangerous. … It’s kind of a nightmare.”
Parents’ safety concerns are bubbling up just months after the death of Leo Castillo, a Samohi freshman who was riding a scooter against a red light when he was hit by a car.
That fatal collision took place at night at the intersection of Olympic Boulevard and 26th Street, but parents are worried that a similar tragedy could happen during high-volume hours near the high school.
“The safety of our high school students and the parents who bring them to school should be paramount. It’s kind of an apple-pie issue in my mind,” Leder-Pack said. “I’m very frustrated. … I’m in disbelief. It seems like they’re not taking the matter seriously.
“It really boggles my mind. People get very frustrated with city government, and this makes me understand why.”