The mistakes made by policy makers concerning the Expo Light Rail extension to Santa Monica — the bad planning, poor decision making and downright stupidity — are coming home like chickens, to roost.
An accident involving a Metro test train and an 18-wheeler at Colorado Avenue and 7th Street two weeks ago was the first physical proof that accidents will happen especially when a 270-foot-long, 300,000-pound train is running at street level as opposed to on either secured elevated or subterranean alignments.
When City Hall was reviewing options in 2007 to 2009 for bringing light rail to Santa Monica, some council members envisioned a “European style” environment as opposed to an elevated alignment for Expo. Street level convenience and accessibility were paramount. Public space where pedestrians, cars, buses, trains and bicycles could all intermingle safely was classic Kumbaya — utopian, but not realistic.
I knew from the very beginning that people would be killed and injured with the at-grade alignment — especially one with minimal fencing and cross gates. But, the “Let’s recreate Amsterdam” mindset prevailed and a giddy City Council made inane and regrettable decisions.
More than 120 people have died in accidents since the Blue line began service in 1990 — most of the fatalities are where the line runs on Washington Boulevard. That doesn’t include a pedestrian/train “suicide” the same day as our Expo train/truck accident. The Blue Line is one of the deadliest light-rail lines in the United States. And, if you think that the accidents, injuries and death won’t happen here, think again.
Last Tuesday night, City Council finally approved a fence down the center of Colorado between 7th Street and 15th Court. It would only run between the two sets of tracks and not block intersections.
Council’s “OK” of the fencing was unanimous, but several council members were still chasing unicorns. Kevin McKeown said, “…I’m disappointed that Southern Californians can’t figure out what tracks mean, but I also don’t want to be scraping anyone off them.” McKeown is a big advocate of the Amsterdam model.
Councilman Ted Winterer said, “… I’m a little more concerned about these sidewalk barriers and we’ve gone to great lengths and expense to make an incredibly pedestrian environment from the train from 4th street to the ocean and yet here we are going to put up what I don’t think are incredibly attractive barriers.”
Note to Winterer: Because the Expo terminal is at 4th Street, 4th Street to Ocean Avenue will be the new pedestrian-friendly Colorado Esplanade; there’s nothing to fence.
The area subject to fencing is the industrial section of the Colorado corridor from 7th Street easterly to 15th Court. I predict that fencing will also eventually be approved easterly adjacent to Crossroads School and the Stewart Street/Exposition Boulevard stretch also at ground level. Safety first!
Council districts? Hell, no!
Another bad idea has come back to haunt us: establishing defined council districts and requiring that voters cast ballots for only those candidates who represent the district they are registered to vote in.
This means that, if voter-approved and written into the city charter, Santa Monica voters would only vote for one council position, not all seven seats, as now. My questions is: Why would anyone give up the power to vote for seven council members to vote for one?
Pico neighborhood activist (and current Santa Monica-Malibu school board member) Oscar de la Torre and his wife, Maria Loya, are behind the movement and have threatened legal action against the city because they feel the present “at-large” system violates the California Voting Rights Act.
In 2002, Proposition HH (Veritas) was defeated by voters. The measure, if approved, would have divided the city into seven council districts, each with one dedicated council member, and created a directly elected super mayor who would have veto power over council actions.
Councilman Terry O’Day lives in the Pico neighborhood. Electing council persons by district would make it easier for a well-known neighborhood figure to win a council seat because they’re not competing with a host of other candidates from other neighborhoods. Districting would also make it easier for groups like SMRR to maintain power because they could concentrate their election efforts in one or two districts.
Loya claims that the current system marginalizes minority voters; however, with Tony Vazquez on council, you could say he represents 14 percent of the residents — about equal to the current Latino demographic. Looking at it another way, I’d prefer to say Mayor Vazquez represents 100 percent of the residents.
Had “districting” been in, Vazquez probably wouldn’t have been elected in 2012. His victory came from Pico neighborhood voters who, at the urging of the Local 11 hotel union, “got out the vote.” It’s unlikely Vazquez would have received enough votes just from his home district (Sunset Park) to win a council seat.
Loya cites ongoing frustration among Pico neighborhood residents about racial discrimination and political disenfranchisement; however, my research with both “white” and Latino Pico residents doesn’t support Loya’s thesis.
Hispanics also comprise a little over 12 percent of those living in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) but have a nearly 43-percent representation on its school board.
Loya ran unsuccessfully for council in 2004 and for Santa Monica College Board of Trustees in 2014. She failed to garner SMRR’s endorsement for her run for college board and is no longer on SMRR’s steering committee. De la Torre’s term on the SMMUSD board expires in 2018.
Bill Bauer can be reached at email@example.com.